Supermarkets misleading consumers with copycat own-labels

Consumers feel “annoyed” and “misled” by own label brands that imitate established brands, according to a report by Which?, the latest in the ongoing battle over copycat brands that comes as own-labels could face tighter controls from European regulators.

Which? copycat brands

Which? report finds shoppers feel misled and annoyed by copycat brands.

The report found most major brands have a “recognisable” own-label equivalent in most of the major supermarkets and a fifth of consumers surveyed had bought an imitation brand by mistake.
Of those, 38 per cent of consumers felt mislead and 30 per cent felt annoyed by retailers for selling the products.

All the major supermarkets as well as discounters Aldi and Lidl were found to offer own-label products that closely resembled branded goods. Boots and Superdrug were also named in the report as having own brands that imitate established brands.

In the Which? study almost half (43 per cent) of consumers surveyed wrongly identified Aldi’s cream crackers as the branded product, rather than the genuine Jacob’s brand, and more than a third of respondents mistakenly identified at least one of the own-label products as the branded version.

The Which? report states: “Own-label equivalent products can be a good thing … but some products walk a fine line between suggesting a similarity with an established brand and confusing consumers to the point where they end up buying the wrong item by accident.”

A high profile copycat case in 2009 involved Sainsbury’s and Diageo over the supermarket’s fruit cocktail drink Pitchers, which Diageo claimed was too similar to its own drinks brand Pimms. The two parties settled and Salisbury’s agreed to change its packaging.

Under UK laws it is difficult for established brands to bring action against copycats, relying on “passing off” rules which require the brand to prove the copycat is trying to0make consumers think it is the branded product. Brands can also turn to Trading Standards to enforce Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading regulations, but this also requires a brand to prove there has been deliberate intent to mislead consumers.

In March the European Commission announced its intention to tighten up EU-wide regulations under the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD), including so called copy-cat brands.
In its report, in reference to copycat products, The EC stated: “The problem has affected countries where the remedies against unfair competition appear not to be satisfactory and competitors regard the UCPD as a possible tool for starting legal action … The Commission will support stronger enforcement action on this matter whenever the practices at issue mislead consumers.”


Readers' comments (6)

  • I'm one of the consumers with the oppositive opinion. I love when retailers have an own label product that visually represents a branded product. It makes it easier to identify that product to make purchases of very similar quality but generally at a reduced cost. It's easier for consumers to be savvy with their money. Understandably brands won't like it because they have spent time and money building up their image, But from a consumer point of view, I all for replicas.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • With the comment above; that is to assume the 'copycat' brand is of a similar quality. As a consumer I would be incredibly hacked-off if I'd picked up an OL product by accident, brought it home, and discovered to my detriment my latest purchase tasted rubbish!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • As a lover of both good wine & food, I think it is completely wrong that retailers should try and copy brands that have invested and built markets and then to 'ride on the brands backs'. From my experience few retailers ever really invest in their 'venture' brands or indeed in the brand/market development, they just seem to be in it for a 'quick buck'. With all of the current problems around high streets & hypermarkets, the multiples should stick to being 'shopkeepers' and not try and play category brands!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Surely you might be slightly angry if you were duped, paid the same price and got an inferior product. If the product was cheaper and inferior then you would put it down to experience and consider the options next time. However, if it was comparable in quality and a lower price then you will feel like a winner. In any situation I can't imagine getting "incredibly hacked off" and feeling in anyway it was down to my "detriment" and if I did I would consider joining an amateur dramatics society and burn off my drama queen antics.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • In the USA I have discovered that chains here develop their own unique branding for all of their 'own' range, and then actually tell you on the label which Main stream and established product to compare it to.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I work in a grocery store that offers products which imitate national brand packaging and I don't see it as wrong. It's helpful to those people who want to purchase a similar item at a lower cost. As for the people who 'mistakenly' pick up the wrong item, put the blame on yourself, get and education and LEARN TO READ. Too many people want to blame everyone else in today's society. Put the blame of stupidity back where it belongs.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say


Job of the Week

Top Jobs


+media Facebook Twitter LinkedIn