As a small business owner, you know that your products and your brand are two of the most important things you have.
So what do you do if someone copies you? And what happens if the person copying you isn’t another small business, but a giant supermarket chain or international clothing brand?
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Are Aldi products a threat to small businesses?
Aldi has long been known for its look-alike products. But while large retailers seem content to let the supermarket potentially poach some of their sales, Aldi’s line of own brand products have left Small Businesses upset.
The Collective Dairy, a small business started a few years ago by two serial entrepreneurs from New Zealand, has accused Aldi of ripping off their yoghurts. They say Aldi’s packaging, flavours, and even the way the yoghurt is put together – compote and yogurt unmixed in the pot, which gives their products their distinctive cow-patch look – are too similar to theirs.
Amelia Harvey, Director of The Collective said: “We’ve always been up for healthy competition, but we’re confused why a successful brand like Aldi doesn’t market these ranges under their strong own-label brand, rather than deliberately imitating others and causing confusion amongst shoppers.”
Small businesses band together for legal action
The Collective are now looking to team up with other small businesses to take legal action against the supermarket.
Heck Foods, a family-run business that’s grown from farmers’ markets to become a household name, have also accused Aldi of copying their award-winning chicken italia sausages.
Andrew Keeble, founder of Heck, labeled the supermarket a “parasite” after they launched simlar looking chicken chipolatas. While the Heck Foods version won gold at the Healthy Food and Drinks Awards this year, the Aldi version contains far more fat, says Keeble, and could be misleading.
“Our customers kept getting in touch to say that Aldi is ripping-off our products and they’re not the same products,” he said. “It’s deceiving to our health and fitness audience.”
When Heck contacted Aldi and asked them to stop selling the knock-off products, they were handed a “threatening legal letter”.
Big chains vs small businesses
Aldi might be the best known for their look-alike products, but they certainly aren’t the only ones who have been accused of ripping off small businesses.
ASOS, Zara and even the likes of Taylor Swift and Kylie Jenner have found themselves in hot water in recent years after independent designers and artists claimed that their creations had been stolen.
ASOS and Zara were both accused of stealing designs from independent retailers, while Taylor Swift was accused of copying an illustration from a freelance artist. Kylie Jenner has had a number of accusations leveled at her over the years, from ripping off another makeup brand’s eyeshadow pallets to duplicating publicity images from someone on Instagram.
While businesses like The Collective and Heck Food might seem more like big players than small-time retailers just setting out, theft of intellectual property can be a problem no matter the size of your business.
What to do if someone copies your products
According to gov.uk, intellectual property covers things like:
- the names of your products or brands
- your inventions
- the design or look of your products
- things you write, make or produce
While these are automatically your intellectual property (unless you sell the rights or hand them over as part of a contractual obligation), it can be much easier to argue your case in court if you have the right protection in place. This can include copyright, trademarks and patents.