Big brand look-alikes

Reporter: Tineka Everaardt

Imported everyday grocery items, that look just like the real thing, are finding their way into our major stores and confusing shoppers.

You couldn't tell they're any different just by looking at them, but they're not the real thing.

So how different are they, and how did they get here?

Foreign imports are masquerading as some of our biggest and most trusted brands, with the same name, and same labels for different products.

So how do you spot the imposters?

The latest to hit our shores is foreign Coke.

Consumer Rob Lambourne is a self-confessed coca cola junkie.

He says when he went to the Reject Shop to buy his Coke, he discovered it was extremely 'well-travelled'.

"When I took the first mouthful of it I couldn't keep it in my mouth. I just spat it back out on the ground - it's that bad," he said.

"I went into the shop, saw the Coca-Cola, thinking it was an Australian product. After reading what's on the labels (I discovered) it's exclusively bottled for Vietnam."

You'd have to have pretty good eyesight to realise the bottle is in fact a foreign version of Coca Cola - made exclusively for sale in Vietnam. It looks like Coke, it sounds like Coke, but the question on everyone's lips is does it taste like Coke?

Foreign imports are flooding our market. There's Colgate toothpaste is from Vietnam; Morning Fresh dish washing liquid, Nescafe coffee, Nivea body lotion and Mentos mints from Indonesia; Sunsilk shampoo from Iran; Johnsons baby soap from Malaysia. They all look like the Aussie version, but they're not.

They're called 'parallel imports' - the same brand, except made overseas, for an overseas market.

Copyright Lawyer Sharon Givoni says often they have different ingredients, and a different taste to products made for Aussies.

"Some things are much cheaper overseas, and cheaper to import, and the middle man can make a lot more money," Givoni said.

"They're not the same quality, they're not the same sizes, and they're not the same standards. They don't have the same warnings for consumers."

The Reject Shop is not alone in its sale of foreign Coke. United Service stations import 300 and 500 millilitre coke products from Hong Kong and America.

United say they've nothing to hide - telling us it sources from authorised overseas distributors for better prices, and passing those savings on.

Rod Sims chairman of the ACCC says the practice is not illegal, and if retailers pass on the savings it's a win for consumers.

"They can get access to goods worldwide, which means they can get access to the lowest prices worldwide," Sims said.

But Ginovi feels labelling can be an issue. "They may not have 'best before' dates or 'use by' dates, and I think perhaps most importantly for the consumer, if something does go wrong, where do you go?"

CEO of Ausbuy Lynne Willkinson says buying foreign can be risky business.

"Australian businesses are paying very, very dearly," Willkinson said.

"It's the Australian consumer, and the Australian business long-term, and Australian jobs that are going to suffer."

Coca Cola says they use one secret formula across the world, which always meets the company's quality and safety standards. While the Reject Shop says all parallel imports are clearly labelled, and comply with Australian standards.

Statement from United Petroleum
United Petroleum is a proudly Australian Independent company.
We try to aggressively compete with major oil and Supermarkets to bring best pricing to our customers every day of the year.
In late 2011 Coca Cola Australia terminated their trading relationship with United because we wouldn't be bullied about the products we ranged in our shops.
As a consequence, United are now sourcing some Coca Cola products offshore, mainly from the home of Coca Cola, the USA. At significantly better prices than we were previously receiving from Coca Cola Australia direct. We are passing these savings on to our customers.

United are very happy to have been contacted by Today Tonight and hope this story will prompt the ACCC to launch an investigation into Coca Cola's pricing practices. United is currently preparing a submission to the ACCC.

Statement from Unilever

Unilever is committed to offering consumers the highest quality products, regardless of where they are manufactured. Parallel imports are legal in Australia but counterfeit products are not, and this is one area of potential concern. Counterfeit products are made to look very similar to parallel imports in order to trick consumers into purchasing an inferior product. Consumers need to be careful in particular when purchasing personal care products that may be parallel imports that they are not counterfeit products, which don't offer the same level of quality and performance. To help avoid the accidental purchase of a counterfeit product, consumers should buy from a reputable retailer and should contact the manufacturer if they have any concerns with product quality