Retailer ‘stole’ drinks concept

By Slindile Maluleka Time of article published Dec 22, 2011

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Corporate giant Woolworths yesterday hit back at accusations that it had stolen a vintage soft drink concept from a small KwaZulu- Natal Midlands business.

Zyda Rylands, the retailer’s managing director of food, said they have used the nostalgic or vintage design concept for many years in a range of products – and old-fashioned drinks were not a new concept.

This follows KZN household brand Frankies Olde Soft Drink Company claiming the retailer copied the vintage branding on its cold drink bottles.

Rylands said: “We believe that the allegations made against Woolworths are unfounded.

“We have not infringed any copyright, intellectual property nor registered trademark.”

On Talk Radio 702’s The Money Show, presented by Bruce Whitfield earlier this week, listeners who phoned in after the row between Woolworths and Frankies was discussed said they would boycott the retailer until the matter was resolved.

Introducing the radio show, Whitfield said the topic to be discussed was about the rights of a small entrepreneurial drinks producer who claims his idea was ripped off by the mighty Woolworths.

When he saw the product at the retailer, he was excited that Woolworths had signed Frankies.

“The packaging wasn’t exactly the same but it was pretty clear that this was the Frankies product sitting on the shelves… the flavours were the same and the bottle shape was very similar to the Frankies bottle shapes,” he said.

“The label design had a striking resemblance (to) the Frankies products. I was pretty convinced that Frankies had managed to get the products listed with Woolworths,” Whitfield said on the show.

However, the presenter said, it turns out it is not the Frankies product.

“It could be forgiven that Woolworths has shamelessly copied the concept, but made absolute zero effort to disguise it,” said Whitfield on air.

Mike Schmidt, owner and founder of Frankies, established five years ago, who was on the line to 702 at the time, responded: “I have no issue. I have no claim over vintage style packaging.

“But what I find amazing is that out of the tens of thousands of people employed by Woolworths, they couldn’t come up with an original concept.

“They have actually taken each and every one of our flavours, all of which up to six weeks ago were unique to the Frankies brand,” he said.

Woolworths maintains that flavours such as cream soda, ginger beer and cola are used by a number of soft drink manufacturers and no one company owns the right to flavours.

Also, the names of these flavours have been used widely for decades.

But Schmidt said fiery ginger beer and cinnamon cola were Frankies creations which he claims were a South African first.

In June this year, Frankies approached Woolworths to have their products listed by the retailer.

“They politely rejected the proposal and six months later out they come with their own range of their products which is complete plagiarism of the Frankies brand range… it is nothing but a blatant copy or a blatant attempt by Woolworths to ride on the coat tail of Frankies’ success,” said Schmidt.

Complaint

He has also lodged a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority on the matter.

Woolworths confirmed the meeting between the retailer and Frankies, but said as is typical with introductory pitches, it was a very high-level meeting and no intellectual property was discussed.

A radio show listener who sympathised with Schmidt said Woolworths had probably done something illegal and unethical.

“I will boycott Woolworths until they sort this thing out,” the listener said, adding, “It is unfair that the big guys are taking over.”

Another listener, who said he had tasted the Frankies product while on holiday in KwaZulu-Natal and later purchased it at Woolworths, said he was not going to make any more purchases of the product at the retailer.

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