It is hypocritical for Woolworths to attack Aldi for infringing the intellectual property of leading brands, and unfair to use this argument to pressure a rival to sign up to the food and grocery industry's new code of conduct, which Aldi had no input to.
In today's Australian Financial Review
, Woolworths' supermarkets managing director Tjeerd Jegen pointed to similarities between some of Aldi's exclusive brands and national brands, including Bundaberg ginger beer, Procter & Gamble's Pantene shampoo, General Mills' Old El Paso taco kits and Kellogg's Special K. "One of our major competitors has 96% of their range that is own-brand," Jegen said. "If you don't look carefully, you'd think it came from suppliers' brands."
OK, Aldi does make an hilarious art form of ripping off packaging. My favourite is Saint Etienne, which looks just like Stella Artois but sells at Aldi for $29.99 a case
. I haven’t bought it yet -- misguided loyalty -- but I'm sure it tastes exactly the same.
The major supermarkets are equally guilty, however. Earlier this year Craig Reucassel did a story called "Copycat" for ABC’s The Checkout program
, showing how Coles and Woolworths were jazzing up their home brands into private labels by copying the packaging of successful brands like Grainwaves, Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes, Bounty, and even the Cancer Council's sunscreen -- undercutting the non-profit body's key fund raising tool. "How can you?" Reucassel asked the supermarkets, plaintively.
The tactic does work to confuse shoppers. A chef mate, Jo Cook, who has been in the food business for 22 years and is a slow food advocate, was gutted to find she had brought a tub of Coles home brand ice cream to our place for dinner by mistake -- not out of snobbishness, but because she tries to support small, quality producers. She had meant to buy two different tubs of Maggie Beer:
"Sometimes I buy ice cream, when I've missed the Farm Gate market or I haven't felt like making my own. It's a complete drag because there isn't a brand that has real ice cream ingredients -- i.e. milk, cream, eggs and sugar -- they all have emulsifiers and vegetable gums and that's the premium brands as well. In the supermarket when I just wanted to grab quality ice cream and get the hell out they were next to each other and I swear the vanilla bean was a Maggie Beer product too. I would never buy Coles homebrand."