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Chinese Knockoff Brands Are Taking Inflation-Ravaged Venezuela By Storm

Top Selling Knockoffs Surge Amid Hyperinflation In A Ravaged EconomyTop Selling Knockoffs Surge Amid Hyperinflation In A Ravaged Economy
A bottle of "hoed & shouders" sits on a shelf in an arranged photograph at a grocery store in Caracas, Venezuela, on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017.Fabiola Ferrero Bloomberg

You most likely have tried, or at least heard of, Head & Shoulders shampoo. But Hoed & Shouders? No? How about Max Quottro razors or Aluays pads or Yahnsan’s soap?

In the economic basket case that is Venezuela, these are the hot new consumer products. Very distant relatives of famous American-born brands, they are crowding shelves that earlier this year were pretty much empty of anything, authentic or otherwise, that most people could afford.

Now there’s an alternative-universe bonanza of copycats from China with labels that read like brand names tossed into a blender.

Shoppers might be fooled by packaging that shamelessly mimics what’s for sale in the U.S. The unpronounceable Convenrt, for instance, is in Colgate toothpaste’s classic white-on-red script. But flip the containers around, and the fine print discloses that the items hail from Hong Kong, or Guandong, or Fujian provinces. Some don’t list any ingredients; some list a few that are vaguely similar to what’s in the original.

The surge in knockoffs is welcome—though not exactly a cause for celebration—in a country where the socialist government’s byzantine system of economic controls has sparked acute shortages of toilet paper, antibiotics, bread, and much more. That the clones are on the cheapish side is a plus. Inflation is out of control in Venezuela, running at an annual pace of more than 4,000 percent over the past three months, according to Bloomberg’s Cafe Con Leche Index.

Head & Shoulders sells for 118,000 bolivares, but Hoed & Shouders is 32,000. That’s about half the cost of a filling lunch in Caracas. Not bad, especially if it really makes your scalp stop itching.