/ Food & Drink, Shopping

What’s new, copycat? How own-branded products confuse us

Have you ever bought a product in a supermarket thinking it was branded, but later realised you’d bought an own-branded product by accident? I wonder how much copycat branding actually confuses shoppers.

I may not be at my sharpest when I’m shopping, but I can usually tell what each product is. For example, I’m not likely to pick up a tomato under the impression that it’s a courgette.

So I was a bit stunned the other week when I arrived home and realised I’d picked up the shop’s own-branded bottle of shampoo, when I thought I’d bought the original branded version!

And it seems I’m not the only one, as there has been recent  research on how similar packaging can cause confusion.

Do supermarkets have brands over a barrel?

You can see why shops would design their products to look similar to their branded equivalents – for more sales. But brands argue that their investment in product and brand identity is wasted if other brands can simply piggy-back on it.

Shoppers may actually welcome the lower prices that usually come with own-branded products. But then again, wouldn’t a shopper prefer to make that choice for themselves rather than feeling ‘tricked’ into it?

So why don’t brands fight back, and how do supermarkets get away with it? Well, there’s the interesting point that supermarkets now act as both poacher and gamekeeper. Not only do they put their own-branded products on their shelves, but most branded products can only make significant sales if they secure a place on those same shelves.

According to Planet Retail (PDF), own-branded products have 43% of the market, up from 39% four years ago, showing a significant lift in own-brand sales.

Have you ever accidentally bought a supermarket branded product thinking it was an official brand? Do you think it’s fair for supermarkets to design their own products to look similar to their branded counterparts?

If you find any convincing examples, email your photos to helpwanted@which.co.uk and put ‘copycat packaging’ in the subject line!

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

Loading ... Loading ...

Personally not yet, but I’m sure its only a matter of time. The fact that alot of own brand products look very similar to the real deal, I’m surprised the big brands aren’t taking the supermarkets to court for breach of copyright. Just shows how underhand the supermarkets are these days.

There are some interesting dynamics in this issue. The supermarkets cannot decline to stock the most heaviy advertised branded products – that would be commercial suicide. The brand manufacturers’ advertising and promotions also benefit the supermarkets’ own-label goods. The major brands can virtually dictate the merchandising of their lines but the supermarkets usually take the adjacent space with their own-label goods. Many supermarket own-label goods are made by the prime brand manufacturers – only Kelloggs and perhaps a handful of others actually proclaim that they do not make own-label products. Some own-label goods are made by the No 2 or No 3 brand manufacturer and are sold in competition against their own products although not usually through the same supermarket chain; for example, an Asda own-label product might be manufactured by Brand No 2 whose main sales are through The Cooperative Food or Farm Foods, say, and will not be stocked by Asda. Supermarkets often reduce the prices of the branded products [because of a heaviliy-advertised manufacturer’s promotion] but can’t discount their own-label lines to match – although the supermarkets probably beat the wholesale price down during such offers in order to compensate. The big brand owners do try to counteract the mimicry of their packaging by making unexpected changes to their design and graphics; it temporarily wrong-foots the supermarkets but it’s a tricky game to play – having invested enormously in a brand logo and identity they have to keep it recognisable. Kelloggs have done this most noticeably with their Crunchy Nut Cornflake boxes; this is a premium cereal that all the supermarkets are imitating at lower prices. None are as good in my opinion but they probably satisfy sufficiently to take a lot of sales from Kelloggs.

Incidentally, I came across a large shop in a prominent part of Lowestoft the other day where the entire area was occupied by large bins of cereals and other loose products, some branded, others generic, which customers scoop out into a bag and pay for by weight at the checkout. A good way to save if the quality and condition are acceptable [and if your kitchen cupboards have plenty of storage canisters].

Rich says:
4 July 2012

Weigh and save? I left Lowestoft over 10 years ago, and still miss that shop! Can’t believe it’s still going! 🙂

Yes Rich – it looks like it’s going strong. Thanks for reminding me of the name “Weigh & Save” [I thought it was “Weigh to Save” but I didn’t quote it since I wasn’t quite sure. I hadn’t realised I would be citing it in a Which?Conversation a few days later so I neglected to memorise it]. I have never seen a shop like that before so it is interesting that it has been around a long time. I wonder why the concept has not taken off in other places [although some markets have similar traders]. Perhaps people dislike the anonymity of the products in their larders, or don’t like the connotations of cheapness, or are just plain snobs and enjoy looking at the expensive packaging of the brand leaders. Much of the stock was the popular brands, just presented in bulk and retailed by weight instead of by the box or packet. Makes a lot of sense to me and if we moved to Lowestoft we would probably be regular customers.

Since retailing and advertising seems to be designed to misrepresent products, I am not sure if there is a problem. None of the examples I have seen are the sort of difficult to spot fakes that are common in electronics and clothing products.

If the manufacturers are not spending money on advertising, they can afford to give the consumer better value for money. Which? regularly reports examples of products that are better than the well known brands. I would prefer that retailing was based on honesty, but until the large manufacturers and retailers are not setting a good example, I’m not going to worry about the fact that similar products made by different manufacturers have fairly similar packaging.

You’re dead right – they’re all in it together, and stumbling on a look-alike by mistake can actually be advantageous. Some of the own-label goods are definitely superior in quality as well as cheaper; better value all round.

Rosemary says:
4 July 2012

As far as many products go, I usually buy the supermarket own brand as its cheaper and just as good/better than the big brand. All you are paying for is the ‘big label’.