Marlenka maker stops knockoffs by Dr. Oetker

The Czech honey cake maker found competition over the name in Turkey

There has been a year-long dispute over the Czech-made honey cakes that have become popular in cafes and shops in 50 countries. The original maker of the cakes, Marlenka International has prevailed over German food conglomerate Dr. Oetker, which was selling a similar cake named Marlenka in Turkey. Dr. Oetker has withdrawn its cake from the market and has to pay a fine.

The owner of Marlenka International, Armenian businessman Gevorg Avetisyan, said he is also proud of winning a dispute over a large multinational firm. He named the honey cake after his mother and daughter. Marlenka International is based in the Moravian city Frýdek-Místek,

“At the end of last year, we were told by our partners in Turkey that Marlenka cakes are being sold under the brand name Dr. Oetker in all retail networks and supermarkets,” Avetisyan told business daily Hospodářské noviny.

Dr. Oetker is one of the largest German family-owned conglomerates, with about 400 companies and employing over 30,000 people. Its home office is in Bielefeld, Germany, and it produces baking powder, cake mixes, yogurt, frozen pizza, pudding, cake decoration, cornflakes and other products.

Dr. Oetker employs 250 people in a factory in Kladno that makes cake mixes. One of the firm's subsidiaries is sparkling wine maker Bohemia Sekt.

While the honey cake comes from a traditional recipe from Avetisyan's family, the name Marlenka uses the Czech grammar for a diminutive, so Marlenka International argued that using the name was a clear violation of a trademark, as Marlenka was not a traditional name for the cake.

Marlenka International makes about 2 million of the honey cakes annually and exports to about 50 countries worldwide.

Marlenka hired patent and trademark lawyers from the Inpartners Group in Brno, South Moravia, and the firm Gün from Istanbul, who sent the Turkish branch of Dr. Oetker's a demand to stop the production and withdraw its Marlenka cake products from the market.

Avetisyan told HN that there were continuous delays and prolongations of the negotiations.

He added that an agreement was reached in the middle of May on a penalty for trademark violations, but that was followed a further five months of delays that the Turkish side blamed on vacations and absences of the company directors.

Avetisyan said that his company then said it would have to take the matter to the relevant courts. An agreement was finally signed Oct. 13, with the Turkish side agreeing to no longer produce the cakes and to recall all the unsold ones from supermarkets including Tesco and Carrefour. According to HN, Dr. Oetker will pay some Kč 500,000 in damages.

Avetisyan studied interior design and had a furniture company, but left Armenia in the 1990s with his family due to instability in the region and settled in the Ostrava area in North Moravia. He tried other business ventures before turning to making honey cakes in 2003, when his sister arrived with the recipe. Production was small at first, aimed at local shops and restaurants in Frydek-Mistek, but grew rapidly.

By 2005, the company, then called Miko, had 85 employees and made 250,000 cakes a year. At the end of 2008 the number of employees increased to 186 and the annual production reached 1.25 million cakes. In 2013 the name changed from Miko International to Marlenka International. The plant expanded and modernized, and now makes 7 million cakes annually, including other types than the original honey cake.

This year's turnover should reach Kč 520 million and a profit of around Kč 120 million,, Avetisyan told HN.

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