/ Food & Drink, Shopping

I bought a copycat product by mistake

Lookalike supermarket products

Have you ever got your shopping home, to find that a big-name branded product you thought you’d picked up was actually an own-label lookalike? It’s happened to me, and our new research shows I’m not alone.

Own-label products that look like well-known brands are far from rare. In our investigation into lookalike packaging, we found over 150 products from Aldi, Asda, Boots, Lidl, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Superdrug and Tesco that we think look all too familiar.

That might be why a fifth of Which? members have bought a ‘copycat’ product at least once.

It’s easy to do, especially if you’re in a rush, as I was when shopping in my local Lidl a few months ago. I grabbed a bottle of what I thought was Sarson’s Malt Vinegar off the shelf, only to get home and discover it was actually Samson Vinegar, a Lidl own-label product.

Bubble bath lookalikes

Not stopping for long enough to notice the finer details of the bottle, I’d simply picked up on the fact that the Samson and Sarson’s labels are the same shade of brown, and have remarkably similar names. Though on reflection, the fact that it cost about 30p for a large bottle probably should have been a clue that I wasn’t buying a well-known brand.

Are lookalikes a good thing?

On the one hand, I felt a bit foolish for having bought the wrong product, and certainly thought it was cheeky of Lidl to sell something so similar to the brand leader. But really, things hadn’t worked out too badly for me – I’d only spent around 30p on my mistake, and the vinegar turned out to be perfectly adequate. At that price, and without being able to identify much of a difference between the two products, I’ll probably try it again.

When we asked our members what they thought of ‘copycat products’, many recognised that they can be both a good and a bad thing for consumers. One said:

‘Own-brand products should be distinctly marked to display that they are own-brand. To use the same colours, images and shapes as the market leaders do is, to me, confusing the consumer.’

But another said:

‘Similar packaging actually assists me in finding the type of product I am shopping for.’

Many felt that while some own-label products can’t match up to the brands on quality, other own-label products are just as good as the brands, and are often cheaper.

Have you been caught out by lookalike packaging, and how did you feel once you found out? Have you spotted some own-label products that you think go too far in mimicking a leading brand?

What do you think about shops copying branded products?

I think it’s fine – they’ve never confused me (57%, 298 Votes)

I think it’s wrong – they shouldn’t piggy-back on other brands (43%, 227 Votes)

Total Voters: 531

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Comments

I believe I have only done this once. I bought four cans of soup in plastic wrapper. I wanted to have something in the house for when I came back from holiday. When I unwrapped the cans they were Tesco soup rather than one of the well-known brands, and looked very different.

I am not sure about these copycat products. On one hand it is despicable deception and on the other it is encouraging the consumer to try another product that could be cheaper and better.

Walter says:
20 April 2013

Who is doing the encouraging here? I’m mystified by how poorly ‘the consumer’ understands the way business works. Who the players in the supply chain are and who delivers value.

In your example the cans looked different so where is the deception?

The individual cans looked very different but the multipack looked more similar to a well known brand. At least my mistake saved money.

I think I have fallen for this on one or two occasions. Not a problem as the product was satisfactory but I did feel a bit cheated. It has made me more careful in selecting products because sometimes I specifically want the own label [especially in Sainsbury’s] rather than the major brand. The other day I noticed in Tesco there was an offer on Dettol anti-bac bathroom cleaners in a range of flavours but right alongside was the equivalent Tesco cleaner that looked very similar. It was only when I lifted it off the shelf that I noticed the higher price on the shelf label so I returned it and took the Dettol products. Sometimes the packaging is so close to being identical that I can’t believe it’s not coming from the same factory and I am convinced the major brand manufacturers are sometimes colluding in this “deception”. Imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery, so it’s not surprising that some supermarkets are even mimicking the look-alike packaging of their rival retailers. Unless a major brand has a very distinctive trade mark or logo [eg the Kellogg’s “K” or the Heinz shield] that it sustains over a very long period, the consumer can soon forget what the original brand looks like making the trickery even more effective.

I have to say I’m actually a fan of own-label products, whether they’re copycats or not. I’ve got more of a problem with the big brands using their name to ‘justify’ massively inflated prices. In most cases, own-label products are perfectly good substitutes, if not better, and I don’t feel at all deceived by the imitation packaging.

John – you make an interesting point about products potentially coming from the same factory but being priced/branded differently. I was once told by a certain retailer that this actually is the case for some products. Since then, I’ve been very wary of relying purely on a brand name when choosing between similar products.

Some time ago Sainsbury’s were running an offer or competition on their BiskWheatoes or whatever they were called – their copy-cat Weetabix. This had a return address in Kettering. Kettering just happens to be the home of Weetabix, and is probably the only factory in the UK making this type of cereal product in biscuit form.

Very eagle-eyed of you! It wouldn’t surprise me if this was the case, especially given the ‘insider info’ that I mentioned in my last post – clearly this is happening to some extent, and is arguably more worrying than imitation packaging alone!

Pam says:
12 April 2013

Many years ago I worked in a factory that manufactured cornflakes. The only brand we didn’t pack was Kellog’s. Every other brand you could think of was packed from the same hopper. At the time a certain upmarket supermarket thought they were getting better cornflakes than everyone else and consequently charged more for them. I did not eat cornflakes for years after leaving there!!

Walter says:
20 April 2013

They don’t use their names to justify high prices. You have this topsy turvy. You know their name because they advertise and generally have more expensive raw materials and packaging. The only reason you have tried imitating brands is because they imitate. So they get to charge less by my saving on marketing but still get your custom. Can u not see this?

Personally no, but know of people who have. But it does annoy me that I need to be on guard (over and above all the other tricks and traps that supermarkets employ) when doing my shopping. If their products were OK they wouldn’t need to try to trick people into buying them.

svoburner says:
12 April 2013

Personally I think this investigation is a waste of time with respect to Aldi or Lidl (what about cash’n’carry?) – you don’t go into these stores expecting to buy a big-name branded product!

svoburner says:
12 April 2013

On a lighter note, at the office we find it highly amusing some of the own brand names that Aldi and Lidl come up with (these immediately spring to mind):

Lidl: Crusti Croc (crisps), Cocos & Chocos Minis (Bounty)
Aldi: Monster Claws (Monster Munch)

🙂

They’re brilliant aren’t they – Lidl’s ‘Snacky Cracky’ (cream crackers) is my particular favourite.

We come up with our own versions of the names, so we call Aldi’s “Wotsit” look-alikes “Notsits” and their beef stock cubes “Noxos” etc

Phil says:
12 April 2013

My favourite was the DIY shed that sold it’s own brand “No More Nails” adhesive under the brand name “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Nails”.

Nick says:
13 April 2013

…you need to open your eyes perhaps? these products offer great value (reason alone to know its not the premium brand) are sometimes better than braned and stop consumers being ripped off, which should be applauded by Which. Unless its counterfiet goods (a different issue) I cant see anything wrong with this

And here was me thinking that Crusti Crocs are strange plastic shoes covered in mud.

Several alternative products in Aldi and Lidl have turned out to be better quality and a bit cheaper than the more expensive branded products found in Tesco and others.

Lewis says:
27 July 2013

Its almost counterfeit goods though and that’s the problem. They are just slightly different. It’s clear they are attempting to copy higher quality, better known brands with the intention of deceiving the customer for financial gains. If someone sold you a fake Rolex they try to pass off as the real thing they would be convicted of fraud. If someone was passing off a set of boots calling them Ugg boots when they’re actually not made by the company that is again fraud.

The price being cheaper don’t make it acceptable and has nothing to do with mitigating fraudulent deception like this. They should just make the packaging different. Its not that hard.

PHil says:
12 April 2013

Interesting article. As long as it does not come close to counterfeiting I’m not that bothered by it. The similarity helps with identifying alternatives.

I can’t quite see bringing up the Aldi and Lidl products, you should know you are in those shops and presumably went there to by the cheaper copycat products (as opposed to packaging).

Now adjacent products in the likes of Tesco and Sainsburys which are close enough to overlook at a glance is another matter. Having said that I’ve never been caught out by such practices.

Somehow I think the supermarkets make more from the branded products so surely they don’t want them to get too close, just enough to indicate them as an alternative.

Bob says:
12 April 2013

Retailers should only be able to sell their own label goods in plain white packaging using their brand colour and typeface for any text. It should be displayed in dedicated isles to segregate it from branded goods to stop them trying to pull yet another ‘con’ by luring customers into buying it by accident.

“dedicated isles” – I don’t want to have to drive to the coast then get on a boat to go buy this stuff. 🙂

I don’t really have a problem with this in stores like Aldi, because I expect pretty much all their products to be own-brand anyway.

In fact in these cases the look-alike packaging is useful because it indicates which branded product they are aiming to replicate.

Walter says:
20 April 2013

By copying the trade dress of brand leaders, budget consumers can pretend to their guests that they buy high quality. This is unfair on brands who should be given a huge space to differentiate themselves. People would not buy these copies if they were in plain packaging. Ergo own brand sales are stolen from brands.

Do the brand leaders produce the best quality products? Sometimes but not always. Have a look at the Which? reports.

Walter says:
20 April 2013

Again irrelevant. If the copycats are better, that’s great. Now they can let people know about their new product by creating a brand and spending money marketing it.

Which product is better might not be relevant to you, but it is relevant to most customers.

In many cases you’re just paying for the well known name. In the recent “horsemeat sold as beef scandal” the complex trading network for meat was revealed as was the fact that the same source of meat sold to multiple manufacturers and retailers – budget and brand name alike.

T. Calvert-Linnell says:
12 April 2013

Very recently, at Boots, bought a pack of my favourite tissues – Lotus Olbas ones. In the familiar orange/green covers..except they weren’t what I meant to buy- instead, a new product with a near identical colourway. The Olbas tissues seem to have disappeared from the store (have tried other Boots, elsewhere). A small (t)issue in the scheme of things, I know, but annoying and manipulative all the same – and therefore misleading. Always look at the label has become yet another new imperative..

Nick says:
13 April 2013

No I havnt been misled because i’m not stupid

So the criteria for entitlement to better consumer protection is to be intelligent and have good eyesight. Thanks for clearing that up.

Alternatively, I wonder how many don’t even realise that they have bought copycat products.

Nick says:
13 April 2013

Dont be ridiculous. People deserve protection but when someone in Aldi buys Choco Rice and then gets home feeling hard done to when the realise its not Coco Pops it’s hard to feel any sympathy. You dont need everything spelt out to you letter by letter-take some responsibility yourselves

Nick.

My thoughts exactly.

What worries me most here is the revelation at the end of the intro that only 56% of people have ‘never been confused’. That means 44% of people (i.e. almost half) have trouble understanding the label on a box of cornflakes!!

That frightens me. There will be some, of course, with poor eyesight, etc, but are we really living in a country where so many people are so stupid?

“are we really living in a country where so many people are so stupid?”

Yes.

richard says:
13 April 2013

Nope – I always READ the labels – as I was taught to do at school by my form master during form periods (it was a good school)

I’m less bothered where similar packaging is sold side-by-side. It should be evident there is a cheaper(?) alternative to the branded product on offer. What I don’t like to see is a store selling just a copycat-labelled product at the branded price. Clearly an attempt to cheat the customer.

I don’t notice this problem with Waitrose – any examples? Perhaps they are confident that their own-branded products will make it without the benefit of plagiarism.

Where I do find a problem is where I end up with the “low-fat” or “reduced-fat” version of otherwise identically branded products at an identical price. The reduction in fat (what I’m paying for, particularly with dairy products) is usually acheived by substituting cheap starch and other chemical thickeners.

If own label products are as good as branded why do supermarkets copy the packaging or is it that they are not confident about marketing their own products. Why not legislate for products to be labelled by who produced them rather than who they were produced for. This would back- up an earlier comment on cornflakes coming out of the same hopper for everyone apart from Kellogg’s who if I remember correctly had a catch phrase “if its not Kellogg’s on the box it’s not Kellogg’s in the box” If this is acceptable why do Trading Standards have a problem with fake products after all they are slightly different from the big brands.

Kelloggs has consistently ignored health concerns about its breakfast cereals, particularly over their sugar content. Those cornflakes are only fortified with vitamins because the processing destroys those that were present in the first place. And as for fibre, you would be better off eating the box. Perhaps the copycat products are no better, but I think we should blame market leaders such as Kelloggs for encouraging children and their parents to eat unnecessarily processed foods.

For ethical and other reasons, Nestle products are best avoided too.

My point is that if you knew who produced the product in the first place you could avoid the copycat label as well.

I think it would be better to boycott the highly advertised market leading producer of unhealthy foods. If Kelloggs (for example) decided to pay notice to the criticism of its products and produce more healthy alternatives, the supermarket brands would change too. If a supermarket own brand made the first move, there might be praise from Which? and other organisations with an interest in our health, but the large brands would not change. I am not suggesting that all well-known brands of foods are unhealthy, but some of the top names could do a lot better.

You seem a little fixated on Kellogg’s to the detriment of the wider discussion. Supermarkets bully suppliers into providing own label products by threatening to delist their product. A lot of research goes into getting the product right but if copycat products take advantage of not having any research and marketing costs then innovation will stand still.
Check your High Street where are the Dairies, Greengrocers, Pubs, Card Shops and a host of other consumer services. The supermarkets won’t be allowed Betting Shops and Charity shops which is what we will be left with

I think we will have to agree to disagree, Tom. If the large brands were to stop spending a fortune on advertising (which the customer has to pay for) and use their skills at innovation to produce healthier products I would have more sympathy. I am not saying that all of the big brands are poor, but some of them do little to help us lead a healthy lifestyle.

Walter says:
20 April 2013

What bearing do your personal views on processed foods have on the obvious freeriding by retailers which is nothing short of theft. It’s like your saying theft is ok because you don’t like the people who are being robbed (even though the thrives go onto sell the same goods which you object to)

I was just shopping in Boots for shampoo and was legitimately confused at the bargain price of Herbal Essences. Had to look a little closer to see the Boots logo. Now, this is despite me knowing full well that Boots sells ‘lookalikes’ and I’ve seen them before.

What did I buy? The Boots ones – half the price.

william says:
13 April 2013

It is worth noting that this activity is also effecting smaller businesses which have good products….we were requested to send samples to aldi 3 years ago ,being cautious we made a proviso they were returned………. only one was and you can guess what happenend 3 months later . I feel these copycat brands and products are a cynical approach to business and it is these large retail companies capitalising on our hard work.

We are accustomed to technology companies taking legal action against their competitors, and vice versa. To the layman, it seems that the main beneficiaries are the lawyers, payed for by the customers of course.

I assume that copycat products cannot be classed as counterfeit because product names and text on the packaging will be different, albeit subtly in some cases, but do companies take legal action against manufacturers of copycat products?

Thanks Matt. I look forward to reading the article.

Walter says:
20 April 2013

This isn’t about protecting consumers from buying g the wrong thing. It’s about protecting consumers from there being no future innovation. Brand manufacturers spend a fortune developing goodwill and many of their new developments which cost a great deal are unsuccessful. Retailers get to see sales data before even the brand and then copies of the winners. There is only one reason the retailer copies to the limit of trademark infringement and that is to freeride on the brands. People should remember that our economy and people’s jobs depend on intellectual property. On design and brand equity. Why should any manufacturer invest in a variety of new technologies if a retailer can copy and undercut of the winners with no investment. Consumers should show some loyalty and avoid generic only supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl

I support protection of intellectual property but we do seem to be going a bit overboard these days. For example, Cadburys/Kraft now has the exclusive right to use the colour purple for chocolate packaging. Pathetic, in my view.

No-one is forcing the large brands to spend a fortune on advertising, pushing up prices. It’s also the big brands that seem to be producing highly processed foods, and what the public deserves is less processed and more wholesome food.

Let’s have good products at an affordable price – and not worry too much about the profits of the multinational companies.

Walter says:
20 April 2013

I am a brand owner and also a semi-expert in trademark law. We will have disagree. Why us is pathetic that Cadburys has a trademark on the exact colour Purple? The purpose of a trademark is to identify the source or origin of a product. The Cadburys colour is like a red phone box or yellow new York taxi. Greedy retailers copy established brands who have invested millions and decades of work into packaging consumers trust, identify with and love. It is freeriding. As for advertising in can assure brands would like to spend as little as possible but must maintain or grow market share to survive. You are thinking as a consumer wanting your 30p discount without realising this is to commerce what printing money is to wealth.

Walter says:
20 April 2013

Please can we have a reasoned intellectual debate without going off onto irrelevant tangents. Whether or not you like processed foods it is irrelevant to the debate we are having.

Walter – I am opposed to deliberate deception, and I said this at the start of this discussion. If millions of pounds and decades of work have been invested to develop products we buy in supermarkets, I’m not impressed.

I do not have much time for supermarkets but one good thing they are doing is to convince the public that they do not need to buy expensive, heavily-advertised brands. 🙂

My criticism of big companies producing persuading consumers to eat highly processed food may be irrelevant to the debate, but it’s about time that those who care about wholesome food said something about the problem.

It’s not pathetic for Cadburys to trademark a colour, other than they have no brand to protect. Remember, this the company that was fined £1 million for food and hygiene offences in 2006. It led to 3 people requiring hospital treatment for Salmonella contamination in Dairy Milk chocolate.

I avoid any chocolate product wrapped in Pantone 2685C so, paradoxically, they may have increased consumer choice.

I wonder if most people reading this will know the difference between Pantone and panettone. 🙂

Walter says:
8 May 2013

We agree. A strong brand images and packaging can have the downside of people associating and remembering your brand for a negative thing. All the more reason for brands to have that protection to ensure they have the benefits from being able to invest in highest standards.

Walter,

You say “It’s about protecting consumers from there being no future innovation.”

Really? I would agree wholeheartedly if we were talking about, say, the technology industry. But cornflakes? Is the high price of, say, Kellogs cornflakes due to innovation? Have cornflakes changed in the last half century?

I’d put it down largely to recouping the cost of advertising, plus an element of greed.

At a slight tangent – I tend to make note of heavily advertised products and actively avoid them. They’ll inevitably be poor value for money because you’re paying for the product AND the advertising.

Walter says:
21 April 2013

“If millions of pounds and decades of work have been invested to develop products we buy in supermarkets, I’m not impressed.”

What does this mean? You think supermarkets are somehow low down in the pecking order of sales channels? Mass market (rather than boutique) is exactly where the millions are spent on marketing. In any event as per your wholesome food tangent, whether or not you are impressed with the performance of brands, they are not fair game for being ripped off.

I’m sorry but there are loads of people (mainly every daily mail reader) who go on about organic this or that. Sometimes it’s sensible often it’s snobbery and ignorance of what a chemical actually is and science in general. Anyway at least we’ve now established that all of your objections are irrelevant. All we are debating is the ethics of ripping people off. Own label brands are freeloaders and consumers of these brands are like people who pirate download music. Eventually all innovation will stop.

Sorry Walter. I was not trying to annoy you. I think those who are ‘ripping people off’ are the big brands with their high prices. Supermarket own brands are becoming very popular, so perhaps they are becoming big brands without the hype. I must try Aldi and Lidl, which you have mentioned. Up to now, I have bought only some hardware and the odd pint of milk from Lidl.

Let’s end this discussion unless you want to further discuss chemicals and science. That’s something I know a little about.

Walter says:
21 April 2013

I think no matter how many times I write you cannot seem my point which is one of logic not opinion… The debate is about the ethics of copying packaging. It is irrelevant which product is better. This is my last attempt at trying to explain this. Lets say you have a recipe for a cake. Handed down to you through 5 generations of your family. Over the decades your great great great grandmother’s recipe has become famous with a uniquely distinct cake tin design and sold in all the supermarkets. Ok…. Now I come along and copy your cake and also copy the cake tin design so much so that some people are even confused in the speed of shopping as to which is the real famous ol’ grandma’s cake. When they taste mine they actually prefer it. Mine has more sugar let’s say or some MSG. And yours doesn’t. Now you’re starting to get it right? My cake is cheaper because I don’t have to advertise as my retail partner, the supermarket, has agreed to put my product right next to your product on the shelf. I get to ride for free on your reputation and advertising. Consumers think my cake is the same as your cake, or comes from the same factory, but is cheaper. So they buy it….

Now tell me, what relevance does which cake taste better have anything to do with the business debate on copying packaging? Wouldn’t you in fact agree that I am a worse offender ethically since I have a product that I could brand and market and compete with you fairly on taste instead of being a parasite. You could and I believe would be crying foul on this very thread a out how everyone is copying your packaging unfairly. Then I reply that consumers prefer the taste of mine and it’s cheaper so your family is ripping off the public.

Walter – If manufacturers want to spend money on legal proceedings regarding copycat products that is fine, except that the consumer could end up paying the cost of the battle – as happens in the technology world. Similarity in packaging and placing the products alongside each other on the supermarket shelf is a help to the consumer. It helps encourage them to compare prices, ingredients, nutritional information, taste, etc. It helps customers see that products that have similar packaging are in fact not the same, which should help keep you happy. I don’t see any problem with any of the examples of copycat products illustrated in the current (May 2013) issue of Which?

Ethics is a hugely important subject in some areas, such as conducting medical trials, but the recipes of cakes and design of cake tins is hardly in the same league. I don’t think it’s ethical for companies to sell products such as ibuprofen at five times the price of a generic product.

Patenting is a little different. If a company spends a considerable amount of money in developing a novel product then anyone who makes and sells copycat products is likely to be stopped and have to reimburse the patent holder. The patent system allows manufacturer to recoup their research and development costs. The beauty of the system is that patents eventually expire, allowing other companies to produce generic products and the consumer benefits from cheaper prices.

One of the arguments for buying branded products is that the consumer knows what they are buying. To a certain extent that is true, but big brands do change and elsewhere on this site, people have debated changes in the recipe of Marmite and HP Sauce. Which? regularly turns up examples of cheaper products that are better. I hope that you would not want to discourage Which? from helping consumers in this way.

Walter says:
21 April 2013

Trademarks are different to patents and do not expire. They are equally valid legal instruments for brands to protect their investments. Again you use your personal bias towards products like medicines. Any trademark or patent needs and deserves the same protection regardless of your PERSONAL view on the product type.

Of course I have no problem with Which? telling us about cheaper and better products than the incumbent brand. This is the correct way that a new entrant to a category can marker themselves to consumers. I think that’s great. but what on earth has that got to do with copying packaging.

Maybe I should start a magazine called Watch? with an identical design and at half the price and copying all the reviews from Which? so they have no cost. Then the retailer put my magazine on the same shelf. People like you will then accuse Which? of ripping off consumers and

I wonder if Which? has protected use of the question mark in UK consumers’ magazines. You certainly would not get away with plagiarising reviews from Which?, though small quotations and a reference to the source would be permitted. We have extensive protection for IP and I remain convinced that we need any more legislation regarding trademarks.

One of the big differences between trademarks and patents is the need for significant novelty for a patent to be granted. I have a handful of patents myself and have some idea of how the system works.

Walter says:
21 April 2013

1. Yes Which? has protection for the? In that it is a distinctive element in their mark.
2. I was making an analogy with reference to copying the articles. Food and cosmetic manufacturers have to declare their ingredients and others can copy with impunity. People skilled in the art can either copy based on the ingredient list and their knowledge with trial and error or they can use HPLC machines to literally reverse engineer. It’s the same as copying articles. I am not that familiar with copyright law but often you see articles paraphrased in titles like The Week. Indulge my point.. Imagine if the test results from Which? Could be sneakily used by Watch? My point is to illustrate the absence of cost for the copycat. I want to know why in this scenario you don’t see Which? as ripping off consumers. My allegation is you are biased against ‘processed food’ brands and cannot apply the spirit of the law fairly as you would with a brand you like eg Which?
3. We also have lots of patents and yes they need an inventive step to be granted. Trademarks also need to be distinctive (ie. Novel) and meet many other criteria to get registration. Trademarks are very valuable IP instruments because they protect investments made AFTER a product has come to market.

I’m typing on my phone and cannot really put in the links to which law suits and their trademarks. Apologies for the typos.

I’m sure you are more familiar with the current food labelling regulations than me, but a list of ingredients is hardly a recipe and the amounts of minor ingredients are often not specified.

HPLC (high pressure liquid chromatography) is undoubtedly a powerful technique but can only be used to quantify small molecules. Yes, it has a use in reverse-engineering products but it is only one of the tools needed. I have no knowledge about what goes on in the food industry but it seems very likely that large companies are studying the composition of rival products, irrespective of whether these are produced by large or small companies.

Incidentally, I have no connection with the food industry. I’m a retired academic who has used HPLC and other analytical techniques in research. Most of the supermarket products I buy are branded. I prefer to avoid anything that is produced by Nestle because of the considerable criticism of that company over many years.

Walter says:
21 April 2013

I agree that the current law on trademarks would consider most of the Which examples as not infringing trademarks. I think there are one or two which if challenged might be found to be infringing. Many brands owners feel unable to sue because of huge cost and recriminations by losing supermarkets who may not stock your product anymore.

Why is cake different to medicine in terms of trademark protection? It seems you intellectually incapable or unwilling to separate your personal opinions on a variety of ethical issues (many of which I happen to agree with you on) with a logical debate on the damaging economic effects and morality of copying a brand’s IP. In my view trademark law is too weak in protecting brands, as consumers cannot be burdened and expected to not choose cheaper copycats

Walter – I would be very grateful if you avoid personal insults. 🙁

Can you give us examples of copycat products that you consider to be unacceptable?

Walter says:
21 April 2013

If you want to debate with us on this site, would you try to avoid irrelevant factors.

If you goto Aldi you will see a thousand examples of copycat products.

It helps to make my point that I genuinely can’t name any copycats because all I know is they look just like Weetabix, Nescafe etc. I think that McVities digestive copy in the article is sailing incredibly close to the wind. Surely you agree that these biscuits REGARDLESS OF THEORY TASTE, are unfairly making use of McVities’s property??

If McVities are concerned about Aldi’s biscuits they can take legal action. I wonder if anyone believes that they are buying the McVities product. If it concerned me, as a customer, I would take the biscuits back.

It’s not just small companies that are involved in gaining inspiration from the packaging used by others. Looking through my kitchen cupboards I have found a jar of Nescafe Alta Rica coffee with front and back labels in various shades of purple. From memory, they have used purple on the label for years. I have also got a jar of Kenco Costa Rican coffee with purple labels, otherwise quite different in appearance. Both jars have octagonal caps with tapered sides, and I have no idea which company provided the inspiration there.

I have noticed biscuits that look and taste similar to Fox’s biscuits appearing under different names. Marks & Spencer comes to mind. And, as someone pointed out earlier, the same cornflakes can be sold under different names.

On this website there are many thousands of complaints about problems such as nuisance phone calls, price rises on mobile phone contracts, credit card surcharges, and the behaviour of banks and energy companies. I have not seen much concern about people buying copycat products by mistake. We are more concerned about manufacturers decreasing packaging size to conceal price rises, and that probably applies both to well known brands and copycat products. You are obviously very concerned about copycat products, Walter, but please don’t assume that we are all losing sleep about this.

Come and join the debate on other topics. It would be great to find things we can agree on.

Walter says:
21 April 2013

Legal action is difficult because it’s difficult to prove trademark infringement. My argument is trademark law needs strengthening to protect innovators from copycats. Our disagreement started because you seemed to defend copycats based on the fact that some copycats taste better, and that incumbent brands are ripping off the public by charging more – the natural result of the costs of building the very market that the copycats are selling into.

I have no issue with the same product sold under different names. Why should it be any of our business. If you feel ripped off then boycott the brand. What we are talking about is copying packaging and stealing IP

You seem to talk on behalf of people. You say “we” and “us” a lot which is annoying. It maybe that more people in this forum are talking about nuisance calls (I hate this trust me) but I dint follow your logic that therefore it is not worth talking about. I think that copycats and the consumer trance that accepts it is a huge factor in the bringing down of many western economies that rely on the strength of their branding to be successful.

I think more as a businessman and not as a consumer. I’m interested in your jobs and not in you saving 12p on a box of corn flakes

Sorry Walter. I am enjoying one of the longest discussions that I have had in the last couple of years and I am not trying to annoy you. Depending on the context, ‘we’ and ‘us’ could relate to consumers or discussions I’ve been involved in on Which? Conversation. For the consumer and those who use this website, trademark infringement is not a major issue.

Walter says:
21 April 2013

And I apologise for perhaps being impolite at times. I’m passionate about this and it’s important in any debate to stick to the point. It may be that you have been on this forum for a while but I would prefer it if you could beat me with reason and fact rather than using emotional strawman arguments like being anti processed foods and further by using we and us to giving the impression you speak for the entire community. This is a poor debating style. I gave you the rather crude hypothetical example of Which? being copied and asked you why you don’t buy Watch? and you don’t find Which?in this case to be ripping off the consumer. Presuming you get my point will you concede that regardless of what you think of food conglomerates they are not necessarily ripping consumers off by being more expensive than the brands which copy them?

Apology accepted. I see Which? Conversation as a venue for a light hearted discussion.

I have just been to Lidl and bought packets of the McVities and Tower Gate chocolate digestive biscuits featured in the current Which? Magazine. They were on the same shelf, making it easy to see the difference, but I cannot imagine mistaking one for the other. The prices were £1.75 and £0.59 for 400 g packets.

Ignoring the taste and texture, which seem much the same to me, are you suggesting that people should pay three times as much for a packet of biscuits manufactured by a better known name? If that’s not a rip-off, I don’t know what is.

I can think of many examples of products where I am happy to pay more for what I regard as better quality, but I probably won’t buy any more expensive chocolate digestive biscuits.

Walter says:
21 April 2013

I can assure you with personal experience that it is very easy to use declared ingredient lists (all have to be declared in cosmetics regardless of percentage) to replicate a product. You are right HPLC is good for small percentages and that is how fragrances can be replicated. While ingredients are not recipes, people like our chemists can copy any product in 48 hours just with experience and trial and error. We in fact do this not to market them but to use as benchmarks.

I said small molecules, not small percentages. I thought we were discussing foods, not cosmetics. I can see that it would be easy to investigate the ingredients of cosmetics compared with cooked foods, for example.