CHICAGO - Lawsuits against private-label products could become irrelevant to retailers if they succeed in giving their store brands a distinctive image.
While seven intellectual property lawsuits have been filed against private-label health and beauty care manufacturers since December, speakers and attendees at the Food Marketing Institute show here this month said the best use of store brands is not to imitate, but to differentiate.
Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, has filed six such lawsuits, while Johnson & Johnson, New Brunswick, N.J., has filed one. None have targeted retailers.
"Private-label lawsuits are not a concern for us, but we don't copy national-brand products," Regina Tator, director of corporate brands, Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y., told SN after one of the show sessions. "We try to make our products not 'me too,' but a solution that is unique to us."
The two most recent private-label HBC lawsuits were filed by P&G the week before the FMI show. They were against Percara Enterprises, Burlington, Ontario, Canada, and Cumberland Swan Holdings, Smyrna, Tenn., for trade dress infringement, trademark infringement and unfair competition involving nine P&G brands, including Herbal Essences, Old Spice, Head & Shoulders and Crest Pro-Health.
"It is important to be aware of how to position and design a private-brand image that is uniquely exclusive to the retailer," Dave Harvey, senior manager, category management and insights, Daymon Worldwide, Stamford, Conn., told SN after presenting in a session titled, "Boot Camp for Buyers: An Action Plan for Private-Label Category Management."
The lawsuits have been viewed as a warning against companies that manufacture national-brand equivalent products.
In a statement concerning the most recent lawsuits, Jim Johnson, P&G chief legal officer, said, "We believe these are clear cases of infringement, designed to feed on the goodwill of our brands."
In a session titled "Leveraging Private Label in a Value Driven World," the message was undoubtedly for retailers to create a product unique to their store. "'Me-too' products are not the answer," said Ana Linfield, senior director, Daymon Worldwide. "A private-label brand should be seen as strategic tool to differentiate from other companies."
"National-equivalent brands are still an important part of the industry, but the direction it is headed in is actually away from the 'me-too' mentality and toward fulfilling the promise private label has had all these years - to become a part of retailer differentiation," Jim Wisner, president, Wisner Marketing Group, Chicago, told SN at the show.