If you peruse your store’s private label products while grocery shopping, you might find “Mountain Lightning” soda, “Apple Orbits” cereal or even “Wow! I Totally Thought It Was Butter!”
Some retailers can be pretty sneaky, and cheeky, in how they name and package their store-brand knockoffs of popular products. The similar names and designs are meant to signal that they’re comparable products. And if particularly gullible shoppers are tricked into thinking they’re the very same thing – all the better.
But one big brand is having none of it. Georgia-Pacific is suing ALDI for mimicking the look of its Angel Soft toilet paper a little too closely.
In a federal lawsuit filed in Georgia-Pacific’s hometown of Atlanta, the company is accusing ALDI of attempting to “deceive consumers and blatantly trading on the goodwill associated with Georgia-Pacific’s brand” by packaging its store-brand “Soft Touch” toilet paper to look very much like Angel Soft.
Soft Touch toilet paper features “a teal colored label,” the lawsuit reads, as well as “an image of a cloud, a picture of a baby and the words ‘Soft Touch’ in a stylized font similar to that used on the Angel Soft packaging.”
Furthermore, the Soft Touch packaging mentions Angel Soft by name, promising “15% More Sheets Than Angel Soft” and inviting shoppers to “Compare to Angel Soft Bath Tissue”. That, Georgia-Pacific claims, has the effect of “immediately causing Angel Soft bath tissue to come to a consumer’s mind and creating a false association with Georgia-Pacific and the Angel Soft brand.”
This is not the first time a major manufacturer has sued a private label competitor for cloning its products a little too closely. Procter & Gamble has been particularly active in protecting its products, suing the manufacturers of lookalike Charmin, Head & Shoulders, Scope, Olay, Tampax and other well-known P&G products in recent years.
“P&G invests heavily in research, development, and intellectual property and design, and must protect that investment,” a company representative said after filing one of those lawsuits. “Conduct from private label manufacturers that can mislead consumers cannot be tolerated.”
Some of those lawsuits resulted in settlements. But other, similar cases have actually been decided in favor of the copycats. In one dispute between the makers of brand-name and private label dental rinse products, a federal judge acknowledged that the copycat “unquestionably seeks to imitate” its competitor “and get a free ride” at its expense. But the court ruled that the “compare to” wording on the private label product, and the similar packaging, was merely meant “to send a message that its products are as good as the national brand products.”
But Georgia-Pacific argues that ALDI simply isn’t playing fair. The retailer’s “blatant imitation” of Angel Soft’s packaging creates “a serious likelihood of confusion among consumers, and is anathema to the public interest,” the lawsuit states. The company is seeking financial damages, and demanding that ALDI change its packaging and pull all existing packages off the shelves.
ALDI has not responded to Georgia-Pacific’s lawsuit. But in a FAQ on its website, it touts its private label products, saying “we work closely with suppliers to ensure that the ALDI-exclusive brands meet or exceed the quality of the national name brands” without “passing on all of the hidden costs associated with things such as marketing and advertising the national brands.” In short, ALDI says, “people would not keep coming back and we wouldn’t be growing the way we are if we didn’t have exceptional, premium products.”
Having package designers who are good at mimicking the competition helps, too.
Private label products may save you some money, and their creative names and copycat looks might even give you a chuckle (“Wow! I Totally Thought It Was Butter” – really?) But for the companies involved in this latest case, there’s a lot at stake – in a battle that may lead these toilet paper makers from the bathroom, all the way to the courtroom.
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