Glaceau cries copycat against Pepsico

Energy Brands, the parent company of the Glaceau vitaminwater line, yesterday filed a lawsuit against PepsiCo and its subsidiary SoBe, which recently launched its own enhanced water product, SoBe Lifewater, alleging that the latter product is a copycat brand that is being pushed onto shelves – including Glaceau’s own product racks — in an attempt to steal and disrupt Glaceau’s business.

Privately-held Glaceau has carved out an important stake in the enhanced water business through vitaminwater, claiming to have sold nearly $600 million worth of the product last year alone. Health-conscious consumers have made bottled water the second-best selling beverage category, behind the rapidly-shrinking carbonated soft drink business. The development of a flavored and possibly nutrient-enhanced segment of bottled water that can offer consumers variety in the category is big business, and one that Glaceau and its founder, Darius Bikoff, have energetically pursued over the past decade.

But in an attempt to take over or disrupt Glaceau’s growth, SoBe Lifewater “copied the formula, the colors, the flavors, the ingredients, the sweetener type (one never before used by PepsiCo, and the key aspects of the trade dress,” according to the initial complaint filed by Glaceau’s attorneys.

The attempt to “cause serious and irreparable harm to Glaceau” took place after PepsiCo had been rebuffed in an attempt to acquire the vitaminwater brand earlier this year, according to the suit.

The similarities extend from the wide-mouthed, 20-oz. PET plastic bottle with a clear cap to the two-tone label and the alternating bold and regular fonts, according to Glaceau, which included a slide show’s worth of photographs in its complaint.

“Not only will retailers and consumers be confused into purchasing Lifewater when they want vitaminwater,” according to the suit, but PepsiCo’s vast marketing and distribution network “will be able to swamp the market with their confusingly-packaged products just on the eve of Glaceau’s most important selling season.”

This is not the first time that PepsiCo has attempted to introduce flavored, enhanced waters – its Aquafina Essentials line came and went very quickly, while its clear, artificially-sweetened Gatorade Propel line has become a wide-ranging success in the fitness segment.

But the success of vitaminwater has created a slightly different set of rules for the water business, one that includes colored and sweetened waters that purport to have nutritional values. It is also one that has invited other copycats, and Glaceau has already successfully defended itself via court-imposed temporary restraining orders against two of them, Enhance and AriZona Wateraid+.

LifeWater’s appearance and style apes vitaminwater even more closely than either Enhance or Wateraid+, according to Glaceau’s attorneys.

Pepsi-Cola North America had the following statement: “This is just an overreaction by Glaceau to competition in the marketplace. Consumers have told us they clearly see the difference between SoBe Life Water and Glaceau Vitaminwater. We believe there is no merit to their claims of infringement and we intend to vigorously defend this action.”