Legal

Coles accused of “piggy-backing” and ripping off Carman’s muesli bars

Eloise Keating /

Coles has been accused of misleading shoppers by copying the packaging of popular brand Carman’s for its own-brand range of muesli bars.

In the latest example of a big business facing allegations of ripping off a smaller business, Coles customer Alison Banney made the claims in a post on Coles Facebook page on Wednesday.

“Another Coles product piggy-backing on the success of an Australian brand, and stealing away customers by offering the product at a cheaper price,” Banney said alongside a photo of Coles and Carman’s muesli bars on a supermarket shelf.

The packaging of the Coles product has a similar black, green and white colour scheme to the Carman’s product. The font on the boxes is in a similar style and both packages have a clear window in the lower right-hand corner that shows some of the muesli.

The photo also shows a substantial difference in price, with the Coles product on sale for $4 and the Carman’s product retailing for $5.39.

Carman's Coles

Source: Facebook

“Could this packaging be any more similar to that of Carman’s?” Banney said.

“And even placing the new fake muesli bars among the Carman’s varieties – an obvious attempt to mislead consumers and ultimately put yet another Australian brand out of business.”

“This is ridiculous and I hope Australians make a conscious effort not to purchase the new Coles muesli bars.”

Coles responded to Banney’s claims by thanking her for the feedback and saying the supermarket giant is “disappointed to hear you feel this way”.

“Many of our customers are facing increasing household costs and so are looking for value from their supermarket shop,” Coles said.

“We have reformulated virtually all our Coles brand products in the last five years to improve the quality across the range and ensure that they are offering great value.”

“However, if our products do not meet our customers’ needs, they are subject to the same review as any other non-Coles product and will not remain in our range.”

Coles said it is “strongly committed to supporting Australian growers and manufacturers “ and works closely with these businesses to “build long-term relationships that are sustainable and profitable”.

“We are now buying $4 billion more Australian food from producers than 5 years ago and around 85% of all Coles brand products are sources from more than 280 Australian suppliers,” Coles said.

Speaking to SmartCompany this morning, Carman’s founder Carolyn Creswell said the Carman’s team “do see the similarities” between the products.

“Time will tell with consumers, we hope they don’t get confused,” Creswell says.

Creswell revealed Carman’s has received a number of phone calls from consumers about the similarities between the products but she says for the time being, her focus is her own business as she “can’t control what others do”.

“We’ve tried to create a unique look and so time will tell,” she says.

But Creswell says she will continue to monitor the situation.

John MacPhail, director of NDA Law, told SmartCompany similar-looking products appearing on supermarket shelves “is nothing new”.

“Certainly it is not just Coles,” MacPhail says.

“Aldi has developed a whole business model out of this by replicating the colours, the fonts, the general look and feel and whole product get-ups.”

However, MacPhail says in this case, the fact that the Coles name is quite prominent and in red on the packaging of its products, does mean the products “feel quite a bit different”.

MacPhail says it also helps that the products are side-by-side on the shelf as consumers are able to quickly compare the two items before making a purchasing decision.

Speaking more generally about product packaging, MacPhail says it is “very difficult” for businesses to protect the look of their products.

“It is very difficult to make the case, there is no trademark register to help with this,” he says.

“The only recourse would be if it was found to be misleading and deceptive conduct but I think in this case, it probably is not.”

SmartCompany contacted Coles but did not receive a response prior to publication.

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Eloise Keating

Eloise Keating is the editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Eloise was news editor at Books+Publishing, the trade press for the Australian book industry.

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