“Nothing”, is Michel Penterman’s honest answer to the question about what had been arranged to protect the trademark ‘Boeren van Amstel’. It was incomprehensible, the director of the Amstelland dairy cooperative finds, with hindsight. He looks back to the start, to the bankruptcy, and to the re-start of Boeren van Amstel. “The survival of the company literally depended on our trademark: an expense of a few hundred Euro”.
Mr Penterman is talking about the start of Boeren van Amstel, in 2019: a dairy cooperative with a nature conservation business model. 22 farmers in the Amstelscheg district, south of Amsterdam, supply dairy products directly from the countryside, and also ensure that their land is attractive for meadow birds. Which in other words means wet meadows and mowing the land only late in the season.
Grass is money
Mr Penterman: “Farmers really do quite a lot for nature. But grass is money: what a farmer doesn’t get from his own meadow for livestock fodder, he has to buy in later. We applied for subsidies, attracted investors and financiers, and we processed our products in our own dairy. That way the farmers could finance their own accomplishments with nature. And the meadow birds benefit from that. The blacktailed godwit is namely a flying environmental thermometer.”
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A trademark with a high goodwill factor
You recognise the Boeren van Amstel products on the shelves straight away. On the packs of milk and yoghurt there are photos of the farmers behind the brand, the straight letters of the name flow over the pack and in the logo of a stylised cow there is a – very small – image of a meadow bird. Mr Penterman: “There's plenty of milk.” So we had to make ourselves stand out. That worked: we have a good brand with a high goodwill factor. The trademark is highly professional and expertly designed by people who really understand what they are doing. It was and is our biggest asset. And we almost lost it because we didn’t register it. Incomprehensible.”
“We almost lost our trademark because we didn’t register it”
Down in tears
Over time, however, it appeared the farmers were producing too little milk to keep the dairy profitable. In 2021, the farmers filed for bankruptcy themselves. Plans for a re-start were already there then, but without their own dairy. Mr Penterman: “It was too good a project to let it fold.” Everyone was so enthusiastic. We really went down in tears.”
A legal spanking
Mr Penterman leaves out the details, but the bankruptcy did deliver the scenes from the Wild West that were to be expected. Several parties claimed they were entitled to the trademark rights. It all materialised into an old-fashioned handshake and Mr Penterman succeeded in safeguarding the trademark: “I really did lie awake at night because our trademark wasn’t registered. It was crucial for the re-start.” After what Mr Penterman describes as a ‘legal spanking’ by the curator, he was able to buy back the trademark right, the customers, the website and the social media channels. And within a week and a half, the Boeren van Amstel packs of milk and yoghurt were back in the shops.
The art of seduction
“Every entrepreneur knows: it takes effort to build a brand. You use words and images to seduce people into buying your product. You work hard on your goodwill factor and you invest time and money in it. But spending € 10.000 on a Facebook campaign and not investing a few hundred Euro in registering your trademark, is not very clever”, concludes Mr Penterman. From now on, he covers himself as much as possible. “Investors and shareholders expect that from us.” Protecting your brand is part of it all. And that's my tip for other entrepreneurs: sleep in peace and spend that money.”