Similac customers unmask imposter

In what may be one of the most elaborate product/package counterfeiting schemes ever uncovered, bogus Similac infant formula has been sold from store shelves at Safeway and Pak 'n Save Supermarkets in California.

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Similac is a product manufactured by Columbus, OH-based Ross Laboratories, a division of Abbott Laboratories. As PW went to press, an arrest had been made. In this instance, 16-oz steel cans labeled Similac with Iron powdered formula were purchased at the subject stores. When opened, consumers said the product color didn't look right, and the measuring scoop was clear instead of the usual green color. They contacted the company with questions, and an investigation began by local and federal authorities. The imitation product was packed in conventional three-piece steel cans, much like those that Ross uses, with an aluminum easy-open end. The fake labels, process-printed both sides, were applied by a commercial can labeling machine, judging by the adhesive pattern, says a source at Ross. It appears likely that Safeway bought the counterfeit product from a "diverter," a legitimate food broker or wholesaler that offers a special deal to a retailer on a product they don't normally represent. "Some retailers will do business with these diverters," says Ben Miyares, a Packaging World columnist and editor of Packaging Strategies newsletter. "Their approach is some variation of, 'I've come to own a quantity of this product, and I have a deal for you." "This problem really gets to the issue of package distinctiveness, like Procter & Gamble's new bottle for vegetable oils. That would be difficult to reproduce," Miyares notes. "But a 16-oz steel food can is so common the only distinguishing characteristic is the label. And that can be the easiest part to duplicate."

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