German grocery giant Aldi has filed more than 100 applications to trademark its brands in New Zealand since the start of the year.

The activity is part of mounting evidence that suggests the company plans to open its strictly no-frills stores in New Zealand.

Since February, the company’s Australian arm has filed 127 applications to trademark brands in New Zealand – 19 of them this month.

The company now holds or has filed for more than 760 trademarks in New Zealand.

The activity follows reports last year that the company had registered the domain name www.aldi.co.nz.

Australian group managing director Michael Kloeters said in a Food Industry Week interview last year that the company had not committed itself to entering New Zealand.

Kloeters did not respond to requests by the Business Herald for an explanation of the trademark activity. But an intellectual property expert said that, given the cost of the exercise, it appeared likely Aldi intended to open in New Zealand.

Hector Cumming, a patent attorney with trademark specialist Pipers, said it cost $100 in official fees to register each trademark for each class requested, plus between $200 and $500 in lawyers’ fees. He estimated the cost of the trademarks Aldi had filed at about $300,000.

“They really have spent a lot of money. I would expect Aldis to start opening up here in New Zealand at some time,” he said. Under new rules, trademarks expire within three years of being filed if not used.

The company has long been rumoured to have an eye on New Zealand – it incorporated companies here in 2000 and 2001 and is known to have global expansion ambitions.

Aldi opened its first Australian store in January 2001. Cumming said if the company did not secure trademarks in New Zealand and brands were trademarked by someone else, Aldi would have to repackage goods imported from Australia.

John Long, director of the shopping-centre design and planning company Retail Consulting Group, said the fact that some of the trademarks related to fresh and frozen goods indicated Aldi wanted to launch in its own right rather than sell goods through a partner. “Bit by bit the fundamentals are being put in place for them to come here.”

The supermarket landscape is currently a duopoly between Foodstuffs, which owns New World and Pak’n Save, and Progressive Enterprises, which owns the Countdown, Woolworths and Foodtown chains.

Long said if another party entered – either Aldi or The Warehouse, which has introduced a limited grocery offering – it would reduce prices, increase store numbers and make the types of stores on offer more diverse in areas now dominated by one or other of the duopoly.

Foodstuffs managing director Tony Carter said it was expected Aldi would come to New Zealand. “It’s only a matter of when, not if.”

The trademarking showed an intention, but Carter said the sign Aldi’s launch was imminent would be when it sought to buy property.

He was not concerned by the potential increase in competition. Aldi had a specific segment of the market but was not a dominant player in any market outside Germany, he said.

Aldi’s presence in Australia has not hurt supermarket competitors as much as some had predicted, but has spurred them to increase the range of their own house brands.

Price-cutter

* Aldi has more than 5000 stores worldwide and annual revenue of more than $50 billion.
* The grocery chain was founded in 1948 by the Albrechts – now Germany’s richest family.
* Its no-frills stores sell house-brand goods and carry far fewer product lines than standard supermarkets.
* The chain is known for its “special buys” – ultra-cheap lines of goods that change weekly and have had customers queuing out the door in places such as Britain and Australia.

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