Frankie’s beverages soon available along the Garden Route

Homemade soft-drinks brewer Frankie's enjoyed a boost in turnover last month, when it was involved in an advertising spat with Woolworths.

Owner Mark Schmidt maintains his company’s complaint was not a marketing exercise but that Woolworths had caused confusion in the market by creating a product range similar to Frankie’s.

Last year social media, radio and TV networks were abuzz with the accusation by Frankie’s, which is based in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, that Woolworths plagiarised its successful niche “retro” merchandise.

The retail giant defended itself, saying Frankie’s did not own copyrights to either “retro” or the brand names of the products.

Frankie’s appealed to the Advertising Standards Authority.

Radio appearances and Woolworths’ delayed reaction meant public support swayed overwhelmingly towards Frankie’s, and Schmidt said he was surprised by the level of support his company received.

Frankie’s main complaint was that Woolworths had created a range of products with exactly the same flavours (Cinnamon Cola, Fiery Ginger Beer, Cream Soda and Root Beer), and adopted the tag line “Good olde-fashion drinks”, similar to the “Good olde fashion soft drinks” tag line used by Frankie’s.

“Why couldn’t they come up with an original concept?” Schmidt asks.

Woolworths has denied allegations of plagiarism, saying the company has had the flavours in its beverage catalogue since 2003, that they have evolved over time and also that the shapes of the bottles are different.

Schmidt launched the company, based on a farm in the Midlands, in 2006, because, he says, he could not keep travelling to theUSto satisfy his thirst for root beer.

He and his wife, Paula, started brewing unique homemade brews, which quickly caught on.

The products were initially intended to be sold in the Midlands area but as the company grew, distribution reachedCape Town, East London,Port Elizabeth, theGarden Route,Gauteng,Mpumalanga,Bloemfonteinand parts of theNorthern Cape.

More recently, distribution has includedZimbabwe.

Frankie’s began by producing 100l a week and now produces 40000l. The company employs 12 staff members. When production started they used a handmade filling rig, with each bottle being filled individually.

“Our sales undoubtedly took a boost (from the dispute),” Schmidt says. “There were a lot of people in SA who hadn’t heard of Frankie’s and who are a lot more aware of our brand and our product today. Certainly it had no negative impact on our sales.

“The level of interest that has been shown in this (dispute) by the South African public ingeneralwas totally unplanned and came as an overwhelming surprise and I’m very grateful for it.”

Frankie’s consumers have clearly shown their support through their wallets, and Woolworths’ similar range of product has not hampered sales but created tense competition.

Schmidt says his company is not against competition in his niche market and they have had to compete with bigger brands throughout their existence.

“I applaud competition and I welcome it…. When we started, making 100l a week, we were putting our product out there with the likes of Stoney (ginger beer), Checkers had their own brand and Woolworths themselves had their own brand. I think it’s fantastic to have more people drinking ginger beer and root beer.

“There is a little bit of a difference between competition and blatant plagiarism.

“Launching a product that enables you to ride on the success of a product that already enjoys success in that particular niche market is unethical. With all the tens of thousands of people employed by Woolworths, could they not have come up with an original concept on how they package their product?”

Schmidt says regardless of the outcome from the Advertising Standards Authority appeal, there is enough evidence for the public to make up their own minds about who is right or wrong.

Source: Business Day

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