Business Maverick


KZN honey widow goes toe-to-toe with retail giant

KZN honey widow goes toe-to-toe with retail giant
Debbie Power is fighting for the trademark rights to her Nature’s Gold honey business. (Photo: Supplied)

In a case reminiscent of KwaZulu-Natal-based craft soda maker Frankie’s showdown with Woolworths, a small Pietermaritzburg-based honey enterprise is staring down the corporate tactics of Food Lover’s Market.

Debbie Power and her team of five are purveyors of the “finest” totally natural and 100% local honey available in KZN. The business, Nature’s Gold, has been Power’s happy buzz, till she discovered the retail giant was riding roughshod over her trademark rights. Her efforts to seek redress since 2019 have been rebuffed by Food Lover’s Market (FLM) on grounds other than the legitimacy of the trademark.

Debbie Power with her merchandise. (Photo: Supplied)

The online presence of Nature’s Gold honey speaks volumes about two very different versions of a brand that is contested by the feisty widow and an insouciant Food Lover’s Market. While the name under FLM pops up as a Top 10 Google search, a trawl for honey entrepreneur Debbie Power is traced to a humble toehold on Facebook

Since 2019, Power has been fighting a trademark war with Food Lover’s Market. 

At issue is a trademark for Nature’s Gold registered by Power’s husband Andrew, who thought the name had a sweet ring to it, in 2011. Modest by any standard, Nature’s Gold kept its head above water in the hotly contested honey market in Pietermaritzburg and the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands over the past 12 years.

In 2018, Andrew died suddenly. A widow overnight, Debbie Power found the going tough and, in her words, “took the foot off the pedal”. 

Over the next few months, Power clawed her way back into the business, only to discover in September 2019 that FLM had launched an in-house honey range, Nature’s Gold.

She approached proprietary law specialists Bouwers Inc that pointed out to FLM’s legal department that Power was the keeper of the trademark registration for “Nature’s Gold”. 

In response to Bouwers, group legal adviser Mirella Gastaldi acknowledged that Power was the proprietor of the trademark, but questioned its use.

“(Y)ou have not provided us with evidence of such use, nor have you advise (sic) in respect of which goods your client uses such trademark,” she wrote.

Gastaldi’s point was that if Power was not able to quantify the impact of her brand on the market, she had no claim to the exclusive rights of Nature’s Gold.

Gastaldi, in her closing paragraph, claimed that while FLM had found no evidence of Power’s use of Nature’s Gold in several online searches, it only became aware of her trademark registration on receipt of Bouwers’ letter of demand in August 2019.

The reply by Food Lover’s Market lawyers to Debbie Power’s claim that the Nature’s Gold brand belongs to her honey enterprise.

Food Lover’s Market’s recalcitrance infuriated Power, and more so as Nature’s Gold was homage to her late husband.

“We’ve been selling our honey in KZN for the last 12 years and Andrew took out the trademark in 2011,” she wrote to Gastaldi.

“The name is particularly important to us and adds to the anger we feel with your total disregard for our small business,” she fumed.

Fuelling her rage was FLM’s seemingly casual dismissal of the trademark rights in legalese.

“The words “Nature’s Gold” are purely descriptive, meaning that even with a trade mark registration, you will not acquire the exclusive rights to the words “Natures” (sic) or “Gold” or the words used in combination unless your use of such trademark is so extensive that it has gained distinctiveness and our use of the words or words similar thereto is likely to give rise to deception or confusion in the marketplace,” wrote Gastaldi.

Power said the cost of enforcing trademark rights was prohibitively expensive.

“It’s a (loophole) the company is using to play delaying games. I have no doubt FLM plans to ride it out and hope the dispute dies a quiet death,” she said.

Power said she hadn’t given up the fight and demanded one of three measures: FLM stops using the name and apologises publicly, FLM pays her royalties from every bottle of honey sold under the name Nature’s Gold, or FLM offers to buy the name from her.

An amicable resolution seems some way off, as Gastaldi’s terse response to a final request for comment on this report seems to suggest. Not unlike her contention that the use of the trademark, not its legitimacy, should shape the debate, Gastaldi was more concerned about which publication or what platform the article was destined for.

“As you are aware, we have a right to this information and request that you disclose this information to us without delay,” she wrote.

“With regard to any additional comment on your proposed article, we believe that you have had sight of our communications with Ms Powers, which communications set out our position in respect of this matter. We therefore have no further comments to make.” DM

Derek Alberts is a freelance journalist based in KwaZulu-Natal.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Laurence Erasmus says:

    Food Lover’s Market behaviour is despicable!

  • Rod H MacLeod says:

    There are times in business to vigorously defend your rights – and there are times to reach compassionately into your soul to find ethical balance. Since FLM appears unable to appreciate the latter, I shall not shop with them again, and I will certainly spread this story amongst my circle here in Hermanus.

  • Marco Pallini says:

    They have just lost a customer

  • Andrew Blaine says:

    If there is truth in the oft quoted statistic that 1 response to any written word equates to 2000 sympathetic activists, it would be in FLM interest to take note of the responses here!
    Personally, I wish Ms Power everything of the best, she has my sympathy

  • Bridget McCormick says:

    I cannot believe FLM. Seriously, they are so big it would cost them nothing to change the name of their honey and people would still buy it because they buy from FLM. Debbie Powers, on the other hand, has a trademarked brand she’s been using for 10 years and it’s her’s. Sorry FLM – your attitude stinks!

  • Judy Scott-Goldman says:

    Thank you, Derek Alberts, for publicising this case. I hope the bad press for FLM will strengthen Debbie Powers’ position and that she wins.

  • Chris Shearar says:

    I wonder how many other suppliers to FLM are in the same boat?

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    Thanks to this article, my intended visit this week to FLM is now suspended ! Till further notice. I will advise family and friends of this issue. Its time for the ‘big timers’ to realise there is something called ETHICS … and us ‘small timers’ do have rights also … instead of well paid legal obstructionists like Gastaldi. Maybe she missed the ethics component of her legal studies … or like many politicians, thinks it is an irrelevancy.

  • Bill van Zyl van Zyl says:

    Bye bye Food Lover’s Market. We shall avoid your establishment henceforth.

  • Kathryn Peck says:

    I will not be using FLM again.

  • Kerusha Govender says:

    Shame on you, FLM.

    Small businesses need us to rally behind them, especially in the current climate.

  • Robert Mitchell says:

    Go Debbie! Dont let them get away with it. Its a great Brand!

  • sl0m0 za says:

    Well, that’s the last Food Lover’s sees of me and my friends as well. I shall also retweet this article in the hope that some mass bad publicity makes a difference.

  • Peter John says:

    Very arrogant behaviour by FLM, I am definitely not going to shop there anymore. There replys reveal a lack of integrity.

  • Franci Cronje says:

    Food Lover’s Market, you have just lost one more customer.

  • David A says:

    What despicable conduct from Food Lovers Market!

  • Dave Prentice says:

    All businesses are entitled to profits. Both FLM and Nature’s Gold have employees and other stakeholders dependent on their success. However, in this Debbie vs Goliath case, FLMs attitude smacks (sorry not intended!) of just another Corporate riding rough-shod over the small player to win at all costs. In other words, chasing profit at the unfair expense and treatment of others. FLMs ethics, or lack thereof are shining through. There is more to this story, I’m sure, but FLM have missed a PR trick here by taking what appears to be a hard line legalistic stance instead of a softer, reconcialatory approach where an amicable solution could be found. Whatever the truth is, the public are going to vote in favour of the small guy nearly all the time. FLM if you win this battle, so what… There are no real winners here. The only winners in these cases are the legal beagles. And the REAL losers are the consumers who now are not sure if they’re getting the REAL Nature’s Gold or not. I’ll ensure I don’t darken FLMs threshold again.

  • Chantal Dawtrey says:

    My most recent experience at Food Lover’s Market did not leave me enchanted so this just gives me further reason to never step inside one again. I have done it with Woolworths, haven’t shopped there since the Superlatte, baby carrier, lentil pasta and of course Frankie’s showdowns. Bye bye FLM!

  • Ian Taylor says:

    FLM are a bunch of heartless bullies that certainly will not be seeing me in their shops again. What disgusting behavior! They should be ashamed of themselves!

  • William Kelly says:

    “The words “Nature’s Gold” are purely descriptive, meaning that even with a trade mark registration, you will not acquire the exclusive rights to the words “Natures” (sic) or “Gold” or the words used in combination …,”

    Replace the words “Nature’s Gold” with “Food Lovers Market” and let’s see?

  • Mpumi Bikitsha says:

    Greed is what drives FLM. They lost me long ago when I discovered ‘not so fresh food items’. Later, when I found pieces of paper in their yoghurt they dragged the investigation, posting me from pillar to post. Bye bye again Food Lovers Market!

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