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Yet another small business accuses Woolies of plagiarism

NEWSWATCH: It's been little over a month since Woolworths was accused of copying the design of a baby carrier produced by Cape Town-based small business Ubuntu Baba. Now, Michelle Legge, the owner of local beverage brand Superlatte claims that the retailer copied the idea for her superfood drinks and started selling their own version at Woolworths Cafes.

Superlatte's beetroot, turmeric and matcha lattes. Credit: Superlatte
Superlatte's beetroot, turmeric and matcha lattes. Credit: Superlatte

In June 2017, Legge says she discovered that Woolworths had launched a ‘superfood latte’ concept to their cafe menu, with striking similarities to her brand. At the time, Legge had already launched three plant-based superfood drinks into the SA market – a turmeric, beetroot and matcha latte powder blend.

She'd also landed a national health food restaurant chain and several Cape Town coffee chains with her 750g catering format, and her 200g retail bags were on the shelves of a national health food grocery chain, and independent grocers were following suit.

"Woolworths had used a close variation of my registered brand name ‘Superlatte to title a new section on their beverage menu," she writes in a blog post published on her website last week.

"The section featured just three beverages – a turmeric, beetroot and matcha latte. Sure, they’d used a pause between the ‘Super’ and ‘Latte’ and added a plural ‘S’, but in the context of the menu items to follow – near identical replications of my three blends in key ingredients and colours – it looked liked Woolworths was attempting to ride my wave," she states.

A turmeric, beetroot and matcha latte at Woolworths Cafe. Credit: Superlatte
A turmeric, beetroot and matcha latte at Woolworths Cafe. Credit: Superlatte

Tarnishing category reputation

The business owner is asked regularly if it’s her product on the Woolies menu, and in her post describes having received complaints from customers who tried the Woolies version and mistook it for Superlatte. “Customers and followers were sharing that they’d had one of ‘my lattes’ at Woolies, or, that the lattes on offer tasted ‘horrible’. Of course, they hadn’t had a SuperLatte but something which looked and sounded like it,” Legge writes.

She expresses concern about the "poor imitation" of her product because it could tarnish the fledgeling category in terms of quality and taste. "It’s one thing to ‘take inspiration’, but at least do it well – this category needs all the help it can get," she says.

Why hasn't Legge taken action until now? Firstly, having grown up with Woolworths she's harboured a special affinity for the retailer.

She also said she was discouraged and intimated by their size and realised that legally, they were within their rights. "They had, after all, split my registered trademark Superlatte into two separate words, with a plural ‘s’ tacked on, to make Super Lattes."

"As far as the latte flavours went, well it’s nearly impossible to copyright a recipe, and there were a couple of variations in the Woolworths version. My thinking was that rather than damage my chance to one day stock Woolies, I would ‘keep calm and carry on’, hoping that this would be a passing phase for the retailer."

She goes on to say that Woolworths has since launched their own range of instant single serve ‘superfood’ latte blends, a turmeric, beetroot and matcha pack. Again, the retailer appears to replicate two of her product names, ‘Red Velvet’ and ‘Golden Latte’.

"Unlike Superlatte and the majority of similar brands overseas, the Woolworths blends are relatively high in sugar and are not plant-based, containing milk powder. More clouding of the category and cheapening of the movement towards healthy coffee alternatives, in my opinion, but ultimately to be expected from mainstream retail," Legge explains.

Menu refresh?

Legge ends her post saying: "In 2019, turmeric lattes and the like are hardly a unique concept. We don’t ‘own’ the trend nor the flavour combinations, but we do own our name.

"Supporting the local startups Woolworths finds so inspiring would be a good start. But for now, perhaps Woolworths could consider a menu refresh?"

Woolworths responded to a tweet by Good Thing Guy's Brent Lindeque saying that the retailer denies the allegations that it copied the product, and that Superlatte has never before made contact with the company.

Some South Africans, however, don't seem to be buying the explanation.

Read Legge's full blog post here.

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