Samoa govt complains to NZ Commerce Commission
The sole exporter of Samoan coconut cream says it wants companies based in Asia that it says are ripping off its brand to have their products taken off the New Zealand market.
The sole exporter of Samoan coconut cream says it wants Asia-based companies that it says are ripping off its brand to have their products taken off the New Zealand market.
The Samoan government says it filed a complaint to the New Zealand Commerce Commission six months ago about the products, but has not heard how the investigation is going.
Mary Baines filed this report.
The Samoa Ministry of Commerce Industry and Labour chief executive officer, Auelua Samuelu Enari, says the products mislead consumers into believing they are purchasing Samoan-made coconut cream. He says there are up to ten products made in Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia that use Samoan terms, words and imagery on their labelling.
SAM AUELUA: Some businesses from Asia have been using not only the name pe'epe'e but also they've been using the colours. And it's like identical to our local coconut cream and it passes like it was made here in Samoa, which in this case, it's not.
Auelua says ten years ago, Asian-made coconut cream, marketed like it was from Samoa, was ordered off New Zealand shelves by the Commerce Commission. But he says this time, he hasn't heard how the investigation is progressing.
SAM AUELUA: We want to do something as a signal of deterrence for other products. We only have a handful of products that we sell into New Zealand and Australia. So it is very sad to see that the Asian people are doing this to hurt our very few products that we are able to sell in New Zealand and Australia's markets.
The Apia-based manufacturer and only Samoan coconut cream exporter, Krissy Company Limited, says foreign producers are exploiting the market as Samoan coconuts are known to be among the best in the world. Its managing director, Alex Brunt, says the foreign producers are blatantly targeting the 130,000 people of Samoan descent living in New Zealand.
ALEX BRUNT: Coconut cream is a very important item in the Samoan culture. These manufacturers obviously know that. And we believe that they are targeting Samoan communities as it's a massive number of population in New Zealand and a product that's important to our daily lives. And we believe by the use of Samoan words, the use of Pacific Island imagery they're definitely targeting that particular part of the market.
Mr Brunt says his company is losing profit and is concerned its reputation for producing high-quality coconut cream is being jeopardised.
ALEX BRUNT: We want to set ourselves apart and be proud of something we created here and export overseas. We also just want a level playing field where everyone plays by the rules, and hope for further success for our brand because the benefit goes directly to all the farmers and all the families in Samoa.
The New Zealand Labour Party spokesperson on Pacific Island Affairs, Su'a William Sio, says the products are misleading consumers as without reading the small print, it is easy to assume the product is from Samoa.
SU'A WILLIAM SIO: It's quite deceptive to a community who does regard their own products from home as being of high value, and then finding out that these products are not in fact from the islands, they are from a totally different part of the world. The colours on the labels were very similar. You had to pay attention by looking at the fine print to then recognise they were totally different products altogther.
The chief executive officer of Consumer New Zealand, Sue Chetwin, says the products' labelling could be seen as misleading consumers if it passing off being from somewhere it's not. Ms Chetwin says this is a Fair Trading Act issue. She says even though the product is made outside of New Zealand, the Commerce Commission has jurisdiction to investigate.
SUE CHETWIN: If it's misleading and it's deceptive to New Zealand consumers then it is a Fair Trading Act issue. If it's really hard to find that it was made in Thailand and everything about the can suggests it was made somewhere else that may still be misleading and deceptive.
Acton International Marketing Limited, a New Zealand based company which markets Fia Fia coconut cream, says it sees nothing wrong with how the product is presented and sold. Fia Fia is Samoan but a representative for Acton says its labelling clearly states the coconut cream is produced in Thailand and is not being passed off as from anywhere else. He says it owns the brand and labels, and has put forward its argument to the Commerce Commission. Another company which operates out of South Auckland and markets Solo's Choice coconut cream, Ashon Ventures Limited, says it has been labelling its product with "pe'epe'e", which means coconut milk in Samoan, for 20 years. A representative says it has not been approached by the Commerce Commission and had not heard about the issue until it was approached by Radio New Zealand International. The Commerce Commission says it cannot comment on the case until its investigations are completed, and could not give a timeframe for the investigation.
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