Shoppers taken in by ‘copycat’ own-brand products

Which? found numerous examples such as this uncanny similarity when looking at supermarket own-brand products. Picture: PA
Which? found numerous examples such as this uncanny similarity when looking at supermarket own-brand products. Picture: PA
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SUPERMARKET customers are increasingly mistaking “copycat” own-brand packaging for branded products, a report has revealed.

An investigation by consumer watchdog Which? found there were more than 150 own-label products which “borrow elements” of their packaging from their branded rival competitor.

Which? said a fifth of its members reported they had bought a product believing it to be manufactured by a specific brand to find it was actually a supermarket’s own, because the packaging was so similar.

“Retailers should make sure that people are under no illusions about what they are buying and not leave so many consumers feeling that they have been misled,” said a spokesman for Which?.

He added: “Own-brand products can provide good value and several have topped our tests to become best buys.”

Products that mimicked rival brands were found in major supermarkets including Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, Lidl and Aldi.

Some leading brands, such as butter brand Lurpak, appeared to have an own-label imitator in most supermarkets – with Aldi’s Norpak one of the most similar. Aldi also sells its own “Savour Bakes” cream crackers, which are packaged in the same colour and style of wrapping as the Jacob’s version, and Oaties biscuits, which are similar in appearance to McVitie’s Hobnobs.

In addition to the supermarkets, pharmacy chains Boots and Superdrug also sell products that appear similar to rival brands, Which? found.

Boots’ Simply Sensitive cleansing range is in a similar shape and style of packaging to competitor brand Simple, while the firm’s Fruit Essence shampoo is of the same colour and size as Clairol’s Herbal Essences shampoo.

Brands are safeguarded by Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations, which allow Trading Standards to determine whether to take action against a copycat brand. However, it is very rare that this occurs, as it is difficult to determine if there was a deliberate intention to mislead customers.

“Currently in the UK, there is little to stop a competitor packaging its product to look like a familiar brand, whether or not the product is in any way similar,” said John Noble, director of the British Brands Group.

Which? removed the names of four branded products and their own-label imitators and asked consumers to correctly identify the brand.

A total of 43 per cent of shoppers thought Aldi cream crackers were the branded version, while 40 per cent believed Lidl’s Samson’s vinegar was Sarson’s.

Packaging consultant Mark Shayler said: “Own-label products can mimic or echo established brands by ‘borrowing’ elements of the packaging, such as colour, shape, tone or typeface – or sometimes all four.

“Colour and shape are the first two elements of packaging that consumers pay most attention to, as they’re the first things they notice about a product, allowing them to quickly recognise an item when they’re in a rush.”

The stores involved told Which? they were confident shoppers were not being misled.