Packaging firm blamed over baby choking

JOSH MARTIN
Last updated 05:00 12/02/2014

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An organic baby food maker told the High Court in Auckland her dream of being a premium and ethical exporter was left in tatters when Australian mothers complained of plastic choking hazards appearing in their baby food.

Charlotte Rebbeck, chief executive of Green Monkey, and her business partner, Andy MacBeth, are suing the company's former packaging producer, Aperio, to recover nearly $1 million in costs associated with a 2011 pre-Christmas product recall, lost sales and brand damage.

Rebbeck said international media coverage included headlines on at least three South Korean news channels that "roughly translated to ‘Choke. Baby. Dead.' "

Rebbeck said a doctor told her an Australian baby choked on a small plastic disc that made its way into a baby-food pouch. At the time, in 2011, the baby was first diagnosed as having an allergic reaction but a doctor later said the incident was more likely related to two earlier complaints where mothers found small plastic discs in Green Monkey baby food.

Under cross-examination Rebbeck said she knew that Aperio would use a Malaysian manufacturer to create the pouches when she first ordered, but Aperio had said they would meet stringent EU packaging regulations.

Green Monkey, now branded as Green Zoo, recalled hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stock while Aperio shirked its responsibilities and costs, the court heard.

Rebbeck said Green Monkey wanted to recall products after the first incident, but Aperio said it was a one-off incident.

Rebbeck told Justice Susan Thomasthat Aperio's New Zealand representative, Allan Ching, first told her to keep using the pouches. When complaints continued he said Aperio would help "set things right". However, Aperio told Green Monkey that they did not have the resources to support an international recall.

Rebbeck said that, at the time of the recall, Green Monkey had distributors in Hong Kong, Taiwan, the United States and the United Arab Emirates. It also supplied Woolworths supermarkets in Australia. The company lost all its international customers at the time.

She said the recall meant Green Monkey effectively had a six-month gap in supplying products to any distributors that still wanted the products and strained relationships with suppliers.

"This completely ruined our brand, but left Aperio completely undamaged."

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