When is a crisp not a crisp? When it's a Pringle, says High Court judge

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A WRANGLE over one of the world's best-selling snacks has come to the crunch.

The makers of Pringles were yesterday celebrating a High Court ruling that the snack is not a crisp.

Mr Justice Warren's judgment means that, unlike regular crisp-makers, Pringles manufacturer Proctor & Gamble is exempt from paying VAT on its snack.

The firm had successfully challenged the ruling of a VAT tribunal that Pringles should be standard-rated at 17.5 per cent as the product fell within the definition of "potato crisps, potato sticks, potato puffs and similar products made from the potato, or from potato flour, or from potato starch".

The Pringles case comes several years after McVities successfully argued that Jaffa Cakes were cakes rather than biscuits. Marks & Spencer was involved in a similar wrangle more recently over its tea cakes, which HM Revenue & Customs officials insisted were biscuits.

Proctor & Gamble went to the High Court in London to argue against the VAT tribunal's decision in May this year.

P&G, which sells more than 500 million worth of Pringles every year, pointed out that, unlike potato crisps, their product had a regular shape "not found in nature" as well as a uniform colouring and texture and a "mouth-melt" taste.

The firm said crisps did not contain non-potato flours like Pringles do, and were not normally packaged in tubes.

It insisted that its customers did not regard Pringles as potato crisps.

After an exhaustive inquiry into the ingredients, manufacturer and packaging, the judge said Pringles were not "made from the potato" within the definition laid down by the 1994 VAT Act. He said that to fall within the exception, a product "must be wholly, or substantially wholly, made from the potato".

Pringles, he said, were made from potato flour, corn flour, wheat starch and rice flour, together with fat and emulsifier, salt and seasoning, with a potato content of around 42 per cent.

The judge determined: "This appeal is allowed because Pringles are not, on the facts found, products 'made from the potato, or from potato flour or from potato starch'."

A spokeswoman for Proctor & Gamble said: "We are pleased with this High Court ruling that Pringles should be appropriately categorised for VAT alongside other savoury snacks with which it competes."

A spokesman for HM Revenue & Customs said: "HMRC will consider the judgment carefully, with a view to deciding whether or not to appeal."

The recipe for Pringles was created by Alexander Liepa, of Ohio, in 1956. The creator of their iconic packaging, Fredric Baur, famously requested his remains be buried inside a Pringles box after his cremation.

Pringles first went into production in the United States in 1964, but it was another four years before they were launched officially. More than 45 flavours are produced and Pringles are on sale in more than 100 countries.