Tesco in own-label row

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The Independent Online
A FRESH row over 'copycat' own-label products is threatening to scupper a top-level peace summit to be held this month between some of Britain's leading brand owners and supermarket chains.

The dispute has been sparked off by the launch of Tesco's Unbelievable, a vegetable oil spread, to compete head- on against I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, made by Unilever, the food giant. The new Tesco spread has strong similarities in design and packaging to the Unilever product and has added fuel to an increasingly bitter brand war between retailers and manufacturers.

Last month Sainsbury was forced to change the design of its Classic Cola after Coca-Cola accused it of copying its product's design.

Guy Walker, chairman of Van den Berg Foods, part of Unilever, said: 'I am not happy about Unbelievable. We are talking to Tesco about certain aspects of its design.'

The spat has come at a time when United Biscuits, the McVitie and KP Nuts company, is brokering a secret reconciliation dinner for four manufacturers and a similar number of supermarket chiefs.

Invitations are understood to have been sent out by Eric Nicoli, UB's chief executive, to George Bull and Peter Blackburn, his counterparts at Grand Metropolitan and Nestle. It is also hoped that Sir Michael Perry, Unilever's chairman, will decide to attend.

The retailers are likely to be represented by Archie Norman of Asda, David Sainsbury, Sir Ian MacLaurin of Tesco and Sir Alistair Grant of Argyll Group, which is the owner of Safeway supermarkets.

Despite the peace efforts, the manufacturers have called in lawyers to draft proposals for legislation to prevent unfair practices.

Some retailers say that they are prepared to co-operate with the other side to draw up an industry code of practice, but only on condition that the manufacturers drop their political lobbying.

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