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KP Hula Hoops v Aldi Snackrites: why it can be tricky to tell the difference

For years, shoppers have suspected that own-brand products are identical to costlier branded goods. But it is rare to find such evidence as the photos taken by the shoppers who bought multipacks of Aldi Snackrite Hoops only to find packs of KP Hula Hoops inside. Presumably, they were a bit happier than the people who opened up their multipacks of KP Hula Hoops and found Aldi Snackrites.

So, how common a practice is this? “Very, very common,” says Clare Bailey, a retail analyst who runs The Retail Champion. “Food manufacturing is a limited resource in the UK. There’s all sorts of brands utilising those factories to produce their goods and making minor variations.”Bailey – who buys Aldi chocolate reindeer at Christmas and “struggles to tell the difference” between them and Lindor versions – worked for Marks & Spencer in the 1990s. She remembers that “it came out that Thorntons made chocolates for M&S”. Last year, it was revealed that Thorntons made Easter eggs for Aldi. Such discoveries can be damaging to premium brands. These days, Thorntons “does manufacture specifically created products for Marks & Spencer”, a spokesperson explains, but for no other companies.

One way to catch brands at it is to observe product recall notices. When Yeo Valley had to recall yogurts over fears that they contained pieces of rubber last year, own-brand yogurts were also recalled from Asda, Co-op, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose.

These can be tricky waters for consumers to navigate. The manufacturing overlap between differently branded products is not limited to food. There is often no difference, for instance, between a cheap, own-brand paracetamol and paracetamol made by a household name. On a tour of a textiles factory in Leicester, I saw men’s jackets – old stock or cancelled orders – being opened at the inseam, their “Next” label removed and replaced with an “Alta Moda” label. There is a secret fashion food chain that downgrades unsold goods by rebranding them in order to sell them at a lower price point.

In the area of white goods, a large number of brands are owned by a few companies. Neff, Siemens and Bosch, for instance, are all owned by BSH. While branding, packaging, energy ratings, programming and warranties may differ, the machines themselves “are pretty much the same inside”, says Gareth, manager of Huby’s domestic appliances in Beverly, east Yorkshire. “They might look slightly different inside, the basket’s maybe slightly different, some might have a light in the dishwasher where others don’t. But the parts – the bits people tend to see as most valuable – are made in the same factories.

What protection is there for the consumer? Can someone who is willing to pay extra for a well-known brand be assured that they could not buy an identical product for less money elsewhere? A spokesperson for Chartered Trading Standards Institute explains: “As long as the product is safe, labelled correctly and there are no intellectual property issues, it would not be a matter for trading standards.”

So, try cheaper product lines and trust your own taste.