November 23, 2011
AUSTRALIA’S leading supermarket chains, Coles and Woolworths, have lodged hundreds of trademark applications for new house brand goods covering a universe of consumer items, such as organic food, hardware, baby accessories, booze, bed linen and cosmetics in a push that will further squeeze brand owners and manufacturers.
A search of the federal government’s IP Australia database reveals that since March 2010, the supermarkets have attempted expand their house brand, or ”private label”, footprint into almost every conceivable corner of the supermarket aisle, as well as making a renewed thrust into alcohol and clothing.
Many of these new trademark applications have already been accepted and registered by IP Australia, the government agency that administers intellectual property rights and legislation, opening the way for Coles and Woolworths to unveil new private label lines across dozens of consumer categories in tinned food, healthcare and dried goods over the next 18 months.
The product list generated by a trademark search on all applications made by the two most powerful supermarket chains stretches to more than 200 pages and includes diagrams and logos of how the items could look on the shelf if Coles and Woolworths decide to push the button on the new ranges.
Coles for example has registered ”Dental Pro” to be used for teeth whitening, bleaching and minted toothpaste, ”GJ’s Baby” for clothing and footwear, ”GRILL” for household and kitchen utensils, and ”Bendigo Valley” for meat, poultry and fish. It has also registered a new home brand line called ”Coles Simply”.
Not to be outdone, Woolworths has trademarks pending for its ”Select” house brand label taking in a wide range of consumer goods as well as ”Dymples” for baby accessories, ”House & Home” for kitchen tools, ”My Woolies” for spectacles, lenses and sunglasses, and ”Buckeye” for a line of alcoholic beverages including rum.
A spokesman for Coles said: ”It’s common business practice to trademark a range of brands and taglines, in order to keep options open for possible future business initiatives, and shouldn’t be construed as anything more.” He said Coles did not have a target for house brand sales in its stores, with customers deciding what products they want to see on the shelves.
A spokeswoman for Woolworths said the applications were a normal amount and not necessarily indicative of a ”big push”.
But the applications banking up at IP Australia will no doubt cause alarm in the boardrooms of brand manufacturers in Australia and overseas as they face growing competition from house brands and less shelf space for their own brands.
Global food manufacturer Heinz has rounded on the supermarkets for the growing dominance of house brands and heavy discounting, calling Australia the ”worst market” and an ”inhospitable environment” for suppliers.
Woolworths said this month it aimed to double the penetration of house brand sales in its supermarkets. According to IBISWorld, house brands account for nearly one quarter of Australia’s $70 billion grocery market, with the 23 per cent share set to rise above 30 per cent in the next five years