You might expect working at one of Japan’s largest candy makers means every day at the office is filled with smiles, sunshine, and sentiments as sweet as the products they sell. But the management at Osaka-based Glico’s mood is downright sour these days, as the company claims rival Lotte’s new product is such a thinly veiled copy of one of Glico’s hits that it’s a slap in the face.
The company is in no mood to let this one slide, either, which is understandable since some say Lotte has been ripping off Glico for more than 30 years.
Even if you’re not familiar with the entire Glico product lineup, if you’ve spent time in Japan, browsed through the snack food aisle of an Asian supermarket, or even watched much anime, odds are you’ve seen Pocky, the chocolate-covered candy sticks the company has been selling since 1966.
▼ And which we took with us on our goodwill trip to Africa on Pocky Day, November 11
Pocky has enjoyed widespread popularity for decades. It seems it didn’t just catch the eye of chocolate lovers, though, but also of product planners at Lotte, the conglomerate founded in Japan but with the majority of its operations now in South Korea. In 1983, Lotte rolled out a product called Pepero in the Korean market, and whether or not you think the idea of “chocolate-covered sticks” constitutes a defensible intellectual property, you have to admit the packaging is kind of a rip off.
▼ Pocky on the left, Pepero on the right
With over three decades having passed since its launch, it’s likely too late for Glico to do anything to halt Pepero sales now. Thankfully, the questionable competition hasn’t broken Glico, as the company continues to do well. One of its recent hits is an upscale offshoot of the Pocky formula called Baton d’Or. Available exclusively at Osaka department stores, the candy is differentiated from plain old Pocky by its thicker sticks and special buttery, chocolate coating. It’s such a hit that customers regularly line up ahead of time to get their hands on some before the day’s batch is sold out, even though it’s quite a bit more expensive than Pocky at 501 yen (US $4.25) a box.
Speaking of boxes, here’s what the box looks like for Lotte’s fancier version of Pepero, called Premier Pepero.
Huh. Well isn’t that a coincidence? Or it would be, if it weren’t for the fact that Baton d’Or has been available since October of 2013, and Premier Pepero was just unveiled in Korea in November of 2014.
Not surprisingly, Glico’s executives and lawyers see more than a passing resemblance in Lotte’s tall package that features a kink halfway up the box, wavy line separating a field of white from a contrasting color, and single upright stick depicted on the front. And though imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, Glico has responded to the unsolicited compliment not with a cheerful “Thank you,” but with a stern lawsuit filed in Korean court seeking to bar the sale of Premier Pepero.
While Glico has confirmed bringing the matter to court, the company has declined to comment further on the issue at this time. If successful, the lawsuit could also give a sense of satisfaction to other Japanese food and beverage companies that have felt the sting of Korean treats that are a little too close for comfort in packaging design to their own, including Meiji’s Kinoko no Yama mushroom-shaped chocolates…
…Otsuka’s Calorie Mate nutrition bars…
…Kirin’s Amino Supli sports drink (not to be confused with Korea’s Amino Up)…
…and Meiji’s own Pocky-like Fran, seen here with ironically named Korean imitator Friend.
Really, some of these are so blatantly cases of one copying the other that it’s hard to look at them and not find yourself craving a little justice…and also a whole lot of candy.