Fear botulism scare has tarnished brand

Food and beverage manufacturers are concerned about damage to New Zealand's overseas reputation as a source of safe food products, but say safety standards here are up to scratch.

In the fallout from a bacteria linked to botulism being found in Fonterra whey protein concentrate, some companies in the industry fear New Zealand food safety standards could be considered inadequate.

Petone syrup maker Shott Beverages chief executive Tami Louisson said food safety audits in New Zealand were suitable but having traceability was extremely important.

"If you have to do a recall, you need to know where the product went exactly. You have to be sure that the products that you use within your product are traceable," Louisson said.

"With the event that happened to Fonterra, there are other companies using their whey which put them in jeopardy."

Aotearoa Distillers owner Ulf Fuhrer makes liquor brand Zumwohl, manufactured in Wellington and exported to China. The most important thing about doing business in China, he said, was relationships and trust.

"It takes a long time to get in to China. You're looking at two years plus to build up the relationships and when something like this happens, word gets around very quickly and customers know about it in a heartbeat."

When he met with distributors in Shanghai their focus was always on the clean and green aspects of New Zealand.

"It's the biggest selling point so it's a bit nerve-wracking to know how much of an impact this is going to have. We're not going to know for a while now."

The New Zealand brand being perceived as safe overseas was important, Louisson said, because people were selling New Zealand as a brand when selling products made here.

"I think the most important thing is trust and openness and that manufacturing integrity is up there with the rest of the world or even better."

Beijing father Li Jingyang and his wife, Ang, told Chinese media they believed New Zealand's reputation had been damaged from the botulism scare but he trusted the contamination was an accident.

Mother Zhang Xiao Yan, also of Beijing, told media in China that she would have to "think about things more carefully" before buying milk powder from New Zealand.

Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings travelled to China to assure customers in person after the scare.

Prime Minister John Key said yesterday that he would travel to China if required to reassure consumers there. "Our reputation is everything and if that's what was required, I'd do it."

Contact Jazial Crossley
Wellington business reporter
Email: jazial.crossley@dompost.co.nz
Twitter: @msbananapeel

The Dominion Post