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    Knock-off Drinks Flood Market at Spring Festival

    Copycat beverages fool many consumers but some say they feel cheated.

    While some companies are using deals and discounts to attract Spring Festival shoppers, others are trying to boost their profits by flooding the market with look-alike products this holiday season.

    Many food and beverage companies are producing copycat versions of popular soft drink brands in an effort to cash in on rising demand during the lunar new year celebrations, financial news outlet reported Monday. The branding and packaging of the drinks are strikingly similar to original domestic brands — to the extent they even use similar-looking brand ambassadors on their labels.

    Knock-off soft drinks, the report says, have turned into a lucrative business for their makers, especially during Spring Festival, when they can rake in millions in sales. In places such as Beijing’s Xinfadi wholesale market, truckloads of duplicate beverages await delivery to the small kiosks that dot the capital’s suburban areas, as well as villages across the country.

    Zhang Jianguo, a businessman who sells such products in a Beijing suburb, told the media outlet that the look-alike versions of soy milk and almond drinks are extremely popular during the new year, as such beverages are served at family banquets. Higher demand means he can sell those drinks for double the price, and most customers are unaware of the original brands anyhow.

    Though known for innovation, Chinese companies are also notorious for copyright disputes — and the food and beverage sector is no exception. Peng Xiaoxia, a public relations officer at confectionary brand Jiangzhong, told that there are more than 100 products copying what her company makes, and it’s been an uphill battle to safeguard their legal copyright. Last year saw several trademark battles in the food and beverage industry, between mooncake brands at Mid-Autumn Festival and also two long-standing herbal tea rivals.

    Many foreign companies, including Apple and the BBC, have also dragged domestic companies to court for intellectual property theft. In a high-profile case last year, the Thai owners of the energy drink Red Bull entered into a trademark dispute with their Chinese partners after the latter manufactured and sold a drink called “Cambodia Bull” in several provinces across China.

    Although China’s trademark law regulates patent registration, a legal loophole allows food companies to continue using their branding of choice during the application process until a final decision is made. As a result, some food producers simply appropriate similar trademarks and sell their products during the application process. The copycat drinks sold in the market, according to the report, all have the required manufacturing license, while some also have registered trademarks.

    In the wake of recent reports on copycat products, many consumers have shared their stories on social media, saying they feel cheated by companies.

    “The price is nearly equal to the real brand,” one user wrote on microblog platform Weibo.

    “The majority of people who buy them are old folks who can’t recognize the [imitation] branding,” commented another user. “My family was given a lot of copycat soft drinks during the previous Chinese New Year, and we threw them away.”

    However, businessman Zhang said he is transparent with his buyers. He tells people that the drinks may be produced by a different brand but they are perfectly drinkable.

    The phenomenon of copycat soft drinks, though not new, usually peaks during Spring Festival, according to media reports. Last year, a village chief in central China’s Hunan province appealed to authorities to make extensive efforts to root out copycat food producers and ensure food safety in rural areas.

    Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

    (Header image: Beijing police inspect a workshop that sold fake beer to rural villages, Oct. 12, 2010. Dong Shibiao/VCG)