Suppliers are eagerly awaiting the results of a government consultation into whether they will be given civil powers to pursue retailers under consumer protection regulations over the issue of so-called copycat brands.
The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills consultation ran during April and May and the government is set to report its findings imminently, having planned to have concluded the process in September.
Suppliers and their representatives, including the British Brands Group, are hoping to be given the power to challenge retailers over copycat packaging.
The regulations as they currently stand “prohibit traders from engaging in certain misleading actions including marketing a product in a way that creates confusion with any products, trademarks, trade names or other distinguishing marks of a competitor, such that the average consumer takes, or is likely to take, a different decision as a result. They also prohibit deliberately misleading the consumer into believing falsely that a product is made by another manufacturer.”
Suppliers are pushing for the change after their calls for tougher action from the competition authorities and Trading Standards have failed to deliver any progress.
P&G Northern Europe vice president and MD Irwin Lee said the rules in the UK were not as strict as those on the continent, where there are fewer lookalikes.
“It’s a tough one and very close to my heart,” he said. “Suppliers like P&G invest a lot in researching colour, design, packaging and all of that. So it’s a free ride for the copycats.”
A spokesman for the Competition and Markets Authority told The Grocer this was not an issue it would act on. “With little evidence of consumer confusion and harm and existing legislation on this matter, which means that the brands are best placed to take action themselves, it’s not something we think should be a priority for us,” he said.
The spokesman added that the best option for brand owners was to take legal action under ‘passing off’, such as the ongoing case brought by Icelandic Seachill, the owners of The Saucy Fish Co brand, against Aldi.
Lee said brands had in the past been directed to Trading Standards but the agency’s resources were stretched and the issue was not prioritised. British Brands Group director John Noble agreed Trading Standards tended to prioritise cases surrounding more hard-hitting issues such as health and fraud.
“Asking how many consumers are being misled is an artificial conversation,” said Noble. “What we are asking for is the option to challenge these cases ourselves.”