Colin the Caterpillar, M&S’s beloved chocolate cake, has been making the news recently after lodging an intellectual property claim with the High Court. The retailer claims that Aldi’s caterpillar cake, Cuthbert, is a little too similar and that it “rides on the coat-tails” of M&S’s reputation.

This drama is perhaps what the UK needed right now after a year of grim news, and the internet was quick to respond with memes. Aldi even jumped on board and hit back and M&S with some tongue-in-cheek tweets. 

From Twitter

While fighting over a chocolate caterpillar seems hilariously trivial in the context of the pandemic, it does raise some important questions about intellectual property and lookalike brands. While ‘caterpillargate’ is the most recent and talked about story involving Aldi and trademark / copyright battles, M&S certainly isn’t the first to raise their issues with Aldi.

Colin the Caterpillar isn’t the first lookalike

Heck and The Collective asked Aldi to stop selling products that closely resembled theirs back in 2018 but didn’t get very far. 

“Why should we stand by and watch these cowboys sell a lookalike pack to their customers?” 

Andrew Keeble, owner & co-founder, Heck
In an open letter on The Grocer

Some brands have had legal success. In 2014 Aldi settled a High Court case with Saucy Fish Co. They complained that Aldi’s products were far too similar to their own, resulting in Aldi being forced to remove them from shelves.

Charlotte Tilbury also won against Aldi for selling a cheap £6.99 dupe of her Filmstar Bronze & Glow palette which retails at £49. Aldi has since removed the product. 

If you’re an Aldi shopper, you’ll be well familiar with the extent of lookalike brands in-store. Why the question of whether they are infringing on intellectual property or not is one for the courts, Aldi definitely does draw from psychological associations we make when shopping. Aldi UK & Ireland chief executive Giles Hurley claimed “What we do with our exclusive brands is identical to what the rest of the market does with own label, which is to draw cues and make products easily identifiable for customers without seeking to copy”.

This is something all brands and retailers do. Even product colours signify different things to shoppers and can be powerful in influencing buying decisions. 

Spotting other Aldi lookalike brands

But is this really all that Aldi is doing? I completed my own Shepper check in an Aldi store to spot some of the too-close-for-comfort lookalike products. Click here to view the whole report.

Some of the lookalike products do seem to be “drawing cues” and have enough differences to potentially just get away with it. Some, however, cross the line a bit too much…

Affordable, accessible shopping

Aldi’s products definitely have the ability to upset brands, but do shoppers care? In most cases, no. According to YouGov, Aldi is the most popular and famous supermarket chain in the UK. It’s no doubt that Aldi’s discount prices are one of the biggest reasons contributing to their popularity.

Aldi creates a more accessible shopping experience by creating cheaper versions of well-known brands – and Cuthbert is just that. Cuthbert sold for only £4.99 in comparison to Colin which currently retails at £7. For everyday budget-savvy shoppers, buying the ‘inauthentic’ version of a product doesn’t really matter if it means saving some money. Aldi’s popularity goes to show that the modern shopper is less attached to brand names and more focused on finding better deals. 

Yet still, M&S is well within their rights to want to protect their intellectual property. Creating a brand and getting it to the loved status that Colin is at takes a lot of hard work and creativity. Why wouldn’t M&S want to protect something they’ve put so much into?

While we don’t know what the result of the lawsuit will be, Aldi’s lookalike brand troubles might not end with Colin the Caterpillar. If M&S does win the case, will it inspire other brands out there to face up to the supermarket giant?