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Unilever Sues Ahold Over Packaging Similarity

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands -- In a case that's likely to serve as a precedent in conflicts arising as retailers continue to aggressively develop private label businesses, Unilever NV has sued Ahold NV's Dutch unit Albert Heijn for allegedly copying the packaging of several of Unilever's branded products.

In the suit filed Tuesday, Unilever said Albert Heijn had copied the packaging of four brands of margarine -- Becel, Blue Band, Flora and Croma - as well as that of Lipton ice tea and of Bertolli olive oil.

While Heijn is one of Unilever's biggest customers, this move "crossed the line," Unilever said spokesman Richard van der Eijk in press reports.

Ahold spokesman Hans Koeleman said Unilever's suit was baseless, and added that he hoped the companies would resolve their differences before Unilever's appeal for summary judgment is heard on April 12.

Its not the first time the two firms have been at loggerheads. In another dispute between the two companies in October 2002, Albert Heijn temporarily pulled 30 Unilever products from its shelves, after Unilever refused to meet demands for price cuts.

Albert Heijn is engaged in a price war with Dutch supermarkets, as it fights to regain lost market share.
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