U.K. LASHES OUT AT LOOKALIKE BRANDS

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LONDON-Upset over the spread of brand lookalikes, marketers are pressing to take copycatting issues to the U.K. courts.

That's the goal of the British Producers & Brand Owners Group, a collection of multinational marketers including Unilever, Grand Metropolitan, Procter & Gamble and Nestle, formed last October to introduce unfair competition legislation.

Copycatting is only expected to get worse. In a report published just this month, market research group Euromonitor said private label sales in the U.K. will grow from $66 billion in 1993 to $78 billion in 1995.

"The bloody battle between the leading grocery manufacturers and the retailers who are making lookalike goods is expected to intensify," said the Euromonitor report.

In addition to the well-publicized case of grocery store Sainsbury marketing a cola quite similarly to Coca-Cola, major U.K. supermarket chains like Sainsbury and Tesco continue to introduce lookalikes.

Tesco only this month introduced Tesco's Unbelievable Vegetable Oil Spread With Butter, a brand similar to Unilever's Van Den Bergh Foods' I Can't Believe It's Not Butter.

"We are flabbergasted that Tesco has launched the product, particularly in the light of Sainsbury agreeing to change the design of its Classic Cola," said Tom Blackett, Interbrand deputy chairman and BPBOG spokesman.

Sainsbury agreed in mid-May to make slight alterations to the word Cola's typeface after complaints from Coca-Cola. But Sainsbury continues to market lookalikes. Although the company agreed to alter packaging on its Full Roast Coffee after complaints from Nestle about its striking similarity to Nescafe, Sainsbury is still selling Cool Crush carbonated fruit drinks, which look very much like Coke's Fanta.

At Unilever's annual general meeting in May, Chairman Michael Perry referred to lookalikes as "parasitic." He added: "I have no objection to sitting at the same table as my competitors. But I do object to them eating off my plate."

Britain is out of step with most other European countries because it has no unfair competition legislation, said Interbrand Chairman John Murphy, and laws covering trademark violations offer inadequate protection against copying.

As a result, BPBOG will also lobby new European Parliament members to stop lookalikes, private label brands designed to imitate a branded product's packaging and taste but with a lower price.

Although he wouldn't be specific, Mr. Blackett said legal action is "bound to happen sooner or later."

The anti-lookalike initiatives follow the British government's refusal last month to add product design protection from lookalikes to existing legislation.

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