Mumbai: The lawyers for Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL) argued in the Bombay high court on Friday that Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd’s (GCMMF) advertisements were guilty of disparaging frozen desserts.
The multinational maker of Kwality Walls ice-cream argued that identifying a particular brand or firm by name was not necessary for an ad to be guilty of “general disparagement”.
GCMMF had earlier argued that its Amul ice-cream ads did not hurt Kwality Walls because they did not refer to it by name, rather depicted a generic cup labelled “frozen dessert”.
HUL’s counsel, senior advocate Virag Tulzapurkar, cited a case law from the Delhi, Calcutta, and Madras high courts whose benches had previously ruled that a company could be guilty of showing a product in poor light even if it did not include a competitor’s name, by emulating its packaging or by attacking the entire class of products it is sold in.
Among the cases Tulzapurkar cited was a 1999 judgement in the Calcutta high court that ruled against ads for a fabric whitener.
The ads implied that blue coloured “neel” harmed clothes by leaving blue patches. Makers of Robin Blue fabric whitener, Reckitt Colman Ltd, won the case, arguing that reference to a “blue” agent was enough to disparage their product even if it was not referred to by name.
HUL and GCMMF had exchanged emails on the ads that Amul ran, in which HUL had asked the company to stop airing advertisements saying that Kwality Walls was made with vanaspati, or hydrogenated vegetable oil.
However, Tulzapurkar argued that Amul’s subsequent change in the ads, from “vanaspati” to “vanaspati tel” was not enough.
“The effect of that change is zero because the image from the first ad is fixed in the public mind,” Tulzapurkar said, referring to the images Amul ran showing the difference between ice-cream and frozen dessert.
The counsel’s argument was that the ad showed a generic frozen dessert made from a semi-solid mixture, seemingly implying that it was made from hydrogenated vegetable oil or vanaspati and not liquid vegetable oil.
As per regulations of the Food Standards and Safety Authority of India, ice-creams made from edible vegetable oil must be labelled and sold as frozen desserts.
However, GCMMF’s counsel on Friday held its ground arguing that this argument was invalid since Amul had changed its ads to say “vanaspati tel” in reference to frozen desserts instead of “vanaspati”.
“I would ask my learned friend to limit his arguments to the second ad, as we will deny that the first ad is being aired or that it continues to be aired,” the lead counsel for GCMMF, senior advocate Ravi Kadam, said.
GCMMF managing director R.S Sodhi declined to comment, saying the matter is subjudice.
A HUL spokeswoman also declined to comment saying the matter is subjudice.
The matter has been adjourned to Monday.