Mary Carmichael
The Co-op has launched what it claims is a revolutionary laundry product, but under the threat of legal action.
The retailer claims Powder Pods dissolvable plastic sachets of washing powder, made by Robert McBride ­ winner of the best own label supplier accolade in The Grocer's Gold Awards earlier this month ­ is a first for own label.
But the two companies are facing the possibility of a legal challenge from a Scottish manufacturer which alleges the new product may "infringe its intellectual property rights".
David Macauley, chief operating officer for Aquados, which launched powder in soluble sachets into Asda and Safeway's Scottish stores in April 2001, said the company's patent covered all combinations of washing powder wrapped in soluble film. "We're consulting our patent attorneys and if there has been an infringement we'll be asking the Co-op to withdraw the products immediately," he said.
Macauley said he was confident the company had a strong case. "If our patent position was weak, we would have expected it to have been copied by Procter & Gamble and Lever Fabergé by now."
A spokeswoman for the Co-op, whose Brio Actipods beat the two category giants to the liquid capsules sector in February 2001, said Powder Pods were very different from the Aquados products. "They are a tablet-like lump of powder in film," she said. "Ours are just loose powder."
Macauley said the Aquados range had now extended south of the border with listings in Somerfield, Morrisons and, most recently, Tesco. "We are about to go for full-scale UK rollout," he added.
But the powder and soluble sachet format has provoked scepticism elsewhere. Safeway laundry buyer Eleanor Stewart said she could not see the consumer benefit of pods.
"If you want to move to fixed dosage from powders, you go to tablets," she said.
Power Pods retail at £2.49 for 20.A full wash needs two pods.