Tearing into the problem of lookalike packaging

The IGD’s code of practice was supposed to curb lookalike packaging, but patently failed in last week’s Kellogg’s/Tesco row.

Somebody, somewhere must do it, despite the fact that every design group denies it – ape the design of brand leaders for own-brand products.

But the much-publicised corn flake pack case last week, involving Kellogg’s accusing Tesco of copying its packs, has raised many issues for design and branding. And not for the first time – Sainsbury redesigned packaging of its own-brand Classic Cola following complaints from Coca-Cola that it resembled its packaging, to cite one of numerous cases.

In fact, the client-driven code of conduct on lookalike packaging set up by the Institute of Grocery Distribution was intended to curb the practice. Both Tesco and Kellogg’s have signed up to the code, which was established in November 1995 with the active participation of retailers and brand owners.

At the time, the IGD’s chief executive Dr John Beaumont did not anticipate “that many disputes in the future”. Companies including Unilever, IDV and Sainsbury all played a part in setting up an arbitration system, with signatories participating on a voluntarily basis.

In reality, the IGD has no means of measuring the success of the initiative; companies are not obliged to inform the institute if they use the arbitration procedure, although Dr Beaumont says they are requested to do so if the process fails. None of the companies known to have used the process has reported failures. But the fact that the IGD has no system to monitor how the code is working is bizarre, especially given the wide-ranging consultation in setting the code up.

Because of the active participation from senior boardrooms when the code was being established, design and branding issues have been at the fore. But designers appear unaware of the IGD code, and while the board members of companies know of it, it seems the people who commission design within their organisations do not. Coupled with its low profile in design, this could be at the root of the code’s seemingly insubstantial effect.

Tesco and Kellogg’s are in “amicable talks” about the conflict. While Tesco is adamant it will not withdraw its pack, Kellogg’s is equally firm that Tesco “change its pack immediately”. Kellogg’s is reserving its position on legal proceedings in the hope that the issue can be resolved out of court.

The Kellogg’s dispute is not an isolated incident for Tesco, whose past record on aping packs has not been blemish-free. The chain came under attack when it launched its Unbelievable spread, which Unilever claimed aped its I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter brand, and again from Procter & Gamble, which believed that Tesco had copied its Fairy Liquid washing up bottle.

While the chain’s spokeswoman declines to comment on other cases, she claims that the branding issue has dwarfed the more important fact that the product is “new and improved”, which instigated the new look. “The new product’s quality is as good as the brand leader – Kellogg’s. The pack design shows that the product is clearly Tesco’s,” she says.

The Kellogg’s/Tesco argument will not be the last on lookalike packaging. While they battle it out, take a look at the packs. Is Tesco ripping off Kellogg’s, or just making effective use of the sector’s generic language?

Latest articles