Feast of the M60 looks at knock-off foodstuffs

Imitation they say is the best form of flattery. On the other hand, it’s a flagrant breach of intellectual property laws. At present, English and Welsh copyright laws allow some leeway for the use of logos in the context of parody. Well, so long as you are not piggybacking onto a well known brand and trying to steal their thunder because you’ve adapted the Coca Cola logo.

As we have seen on this blog before, we looked at how ITV’s continuity was parodied on LWT’s End of Part One (take a bow, John Tribe!). Our chosen image for this post is inspired by two forms of graphic design. One is 1960s television graphics for Granada Television (when Granadaland covered red rose and white rose counties), and the other is Oliver Frey’s Zzap!64 logo (thanks to yours truly being a C64er in his youth). The photograph of Winter Hill television mast is an original creation by yours truly, on a walk from Belmont to Rivington Pike and Horwich. The graphic references all four labours of love: cult television, 40-year-old iconic 8-bit computers, photography, and walking.

If there was no room for parody, creative inspiration or cover versions, we wouldn’t have tribute acts or cheaper imitations to name brands. Coronation Street wouldn’t have inspired its fair share of imitators. Then again, having pretenders to the throne (say the 1990s Cola Wars) is part and parcel of free trade. Of market forces, of freedom of choice.

With budgets getting tighter, we might be turning to the imitators instead of the innovators. Especially when the own brand rival to your favourite name brand is half the name brand’s price. That it matches or surpasses The Real Thing in taste can be another bonus, a sort of ‘stuff you’ – or words to that effect – to the global megacorp.

In Feast of the M60, we look at counterfeit colas, ersatz eateries, and knock-off nibbles. Sit back, relax, and contemplate a longstanding relationship with the middle aisle of your future supermarket chain.

Finger picking good

Fried chicken… yes, fried chicken of “gimme gimme gimme gimme fried chicken” fame, a kind of fast food magic for many purveyors of nutritionally incorrect foodstuffs over the last fifty years. The rise of chicken shops has complemented falling chicken prices. Back in 1951, roast chicken was a luxury. When the UK’s first branch of Kentucky Fried Chicken opened fourteen years later in Preston, fried chicken was indulgence with a capital ‘I’.

50 years on, fried chicken became a favourite takeaway of choice. Besides KFC, several imitators emerged. First up was Allen’s, who could trace its lineage to Preston’s pioneering KFC. Then Dixy, Chicken Cottage, Chunky Chicken, Chicken Hut, and various chicken shops named after any other US state besides Kentucky. Even Wimpy’s short lived entry to the world of fried chicken.

Without which, there wouldn’t be room for upscale chicken outlets like Nandos. We wouldn’t have had as many chicken options on a certain pub chain’s regular menu either.

I’m loving them…

Whereas KFC has attracted imitators from Arizona Fried Chicken to Wyoming Fried Chicken and UK North Fried Chicken, burger bars haven’t had the same number of imitators. This, to a point, is because of how McDonalds are protective of its trade mark. So much so that opening a burger bar named after the Hayes and Harlington M.P. (and former Shadow Chancellor) could trigger a lawsuit from Ronald McDonald and friends.

On the High Street, McDs’ main competitor is Burger King, with J.D Wetherspoon a probable third force (which used to be Wimpy’s position till the early 1990s). In the early 1980s, there was Trump’s (no connection with the ex-US President we think), Huckleberrys, and Starburger. Apart from that, you had the Bumpers Burger Bars inside or next to Mainstop supermarkets, or the Big Bite burger bar inside Co-op Shopping Giant supermarkets. Here’s how BBC’s Newsround Extra reported on this ‘burger boom’ in 1981.

Since the first lockdown, Britons tasted their first McKnockoffs for the take-home market. Once again, Central Lancashire played a part in this fast food revolution with Snacksters’ Big Stack. Based in Bamber Bridge, the company has made microwaveable burgers for over twenty years, initially with the Easy Eats brand.

As seen in Stuart Ashen’s excellent Ashens YouTube channel, here’s his review.

“Clearly, copyright in the convenience food world is not anywhere near as harshly enforced in the YouTube world.” – Stuart Ashen

Counterfeit chocolate, crisps and cola drinks

For imitation chocolate bars, ALDI stands head and shoulders above the rest in naming knock-off versions of popular brands. What’s more, the imitators equal or outdo their name brand equivalents in taste as well as price.

In the early 1990s, ASDA got their fingers burnt for calling its knock-off Penguin biscuits Puffin biscuits. What riled United Biscuits was its packaging style as well as its name: it looked too similar to their Penguin biscuits. With ALDI, this is also true of many other products, like its Pepsi Max imitator and potato snacks. Also its frozen Yorkshire Puddings.

Today, imitation brands or unique names for our staples are the norm. Dressing up a value brand with a twee name sounds a lot better than a functional name like, for example, TESCO Economy Burgers. In some ways, they occupy a middle cost-conscious ground between the no-frills brand and the regular brand.

What’s what in the ALDI world?

  • Mars = Titan (after Saturn’s largest moon);
  • Snickers = Racer (pays homage to Snickers’ previous name, Marathon);
  • Twix = Jive (because it has four letters);
  • Salt and Shake = Salt Your Own (both self explanatory, except one is by Smiths Crisps and the other one isn’t);
  • Aero = Bubbly (self explanatory – one is Nestlé’s brand, and the other one isn’t);
  • Penguin = Seal (probably the second best known Penguin clone, and Seal Bars as opposed to Puffin Bars);
  • Club = Chunky (self explanatory though, unlike Club Biscuits, only available in one variety);
  • Pepsi Max = ZX (the computer geek in me is tickled by ALDI’s decision to name its Pepsi Max imitator after Sir Clive Sinclair’s wonder micros);
  • Pot Noodle = Snack Noodle (Well, they are snacks that happen to be noodles in a pot. Remember that Golden Wonder was inspired by Nissin’s pioneering Cup Noodles years before we saw the first Pot Noodles);
  • Lurpak = Nordpack (references Lurpak’s Danish origins whilst equalling or outdoing the famous brand).

Most famously, ALDI has ruffled the feathers of its more expensive rivals with its caterpillar cakes. Apart from looking similar to Marks and Spencer’s Colin the Caterpillar cake, the name is pretty close to M&S’s cake. To be honest, there is little in common besides the letter ‘C’. Cuthbert may have been inspired by Woolworths’ gardening product line, the swot in The Bash Street Kids, or Microdeal Software’s mascot and intrepid hero of several Dragon 32 games like Cuthbert Goes Digging).

Your cut-out-and-keep-caterpillar cake conversion chart

  • ALDI: Cuthbert (could it be the swot, the early 1980s Microdeal character, or Saint Cuthbert?).
  • ASDA: Clyde (named after the Scottish river or – we hope – the hero of John and Steve Rowlands’ Creatures games on the Commodore 64).
  • Co-op: Charlie (what’s up with Robbie, which could have paid homage to the father of the modern-day cooperative movement, Robert Owen?)
  • Marks and Spencer: Colin (the original one, as they claim – presumably because it sounded good instead of being a reference to the KP Skips character Clumsy Colin).
  • Morrisons: no name, probably because Morrisons refused to be drawn into cake-based nomenclature fisticuffs.
  • TESCO: Curly (the Coronation Street character played by Kevin Kennedy (Morrisons missed a trick there) or a late 1960s song by The Move?).
  • Sainsburys: Wiggles (fair play to them for using a name that doesn’t begin with ‘C’).
  • Waitrose: Cecil.

Any more honourable mentions?

Do you know of any more great knock-off brands? Are ALDI’s Yorkshire Puddings better than the Aunt Bessies ones? Would you choose Colin or Cuthbert as your caterpillar cake of choice? Feel free to comment.

Before we finish, I shall leave you with this clip. It’s a cover version of a song originally by The Platters.

S.V., 17 May 2022.

One thought on “P-P-Pick Up a Puffin: The Joys of Inexpensive Imitation Foodstuffs

  1. I had no idea the caterpillar cake inspired such intense rivalry. Anyway, surely the beloved larvae is in the public domain. Hang on, is it a caterpillar or centipede? There is some potential in the latter, if any retailers want to diversify into other species of insect and/or their pupal stages. I wonder if the scrambled english of Japanese packaging might become trendy, and one cake might simply be labelled ‘INSECT’. Another thing – the knockoff type package was a source of shame in the eighties, when having such in one’s lunchbox was an indication of belonging to a low income bracket, and made the recipient subject to teasing. Happily, it seems it seems all is now taken in good humour. There has to be some leeway for humourous appropriation and parody/homage, as long as it doesn’t too blatantly take the mick … I mean biscuit … Little else to add to this authoritative and useful study – you may have mentioned KFC’s embracing of the innumerable cheeky copycats in one of their ad campaigns, I’ve wittered on so long I’ve forgotten myself. Tesco do a Danepack a pound cheaper than Lurpak. I wish that Aldi would revive, in their homage, the old red white and blue Pepsi sleeve design from the eighties, which I miss terribly.

    Liked by 1 person

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