By Shakeh Avoyan
Eight Armenian companies producing vodka were fined by an anti-trust state body on Friday for illegally using famous foreign brands of spirits to promote their sales.
The State Commission on Protection of Economic Competition said the practice amounted to “dishonest competition.” It ordered the liquor firms to transfer profits made from the sale of their products fully or partly named after their renowned foreign analogues to the state treasury. The total amount of the fines was not immediately known.
Bottles of vodka produced by some of those distilleries have labels carrying traditional Russian brand names like “Stolichnaya” and “Moskovskaya.” But more common are slight changes in label spellings. One Yerevan-based distillery, for example, has produced vodka called “Absolit,” a covert duplication of the world famous Swedish brand “Absolut.” The commission found that the dubious business strategy violates Armenia’s copyright law and is aimed at misleading consumers.
Some of the producers claimed that they did not know it is illegal. “No one warned us before that there is something wrong with this. We didn’t know that,” said the owner of a vodka distillery in Gyumri.
But another businessman denied any wrongdoing. “I didn’t duplicate famous brands, I just changed them,” said Vartan Mirahian of the Surmalu-1 company. “I don’t think I fooled consumers.”
Mirahian complained that the Nagorno-Karabakh-based firm Artsakh Alco has been resorting to the same practice but is facing no sanction by the Armenian government. The chairman of the anti-trust commission, Felix Pirumian, responded by saying that his body has no authority to take action against what is technically a foreign company.
Vodka is the most popular alcoholic drink in Armenia where about 12 million liters of it was consumed last year. According to government data, 80 percent of the demand was met by local producers.