Retailer more than a mite pleased

English Bob's battle for Ma'amite and Weetabix

SARAH DUNN AND FAIRFAX
Last updated 11:07 15/02/2013
Bob Wren
SARAH DUNN/FAIRFAX NZ
CEREAL KILLER: Sanitarium threatened Richmond retailer Bob Wren with legal action if he did not stop selling Weetabix breakfast cereal immediately.

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Imported British "Ma'amite" and Weetabix will be sold in Richmond after a Canterbury importer won a battle with food giant Sanitarium.

Rob Savage will be allowed to sell his imported jars of "Ma'amite", labelled in honour of the Queen's diamond jubilee last year.

Customs seized his container last August after Sanitarium claimed that selling the spread in New Zealand would be a trademark infringement.

The case was due to be heard in the High Court in Christchurch on Tuesday, but Mr Savage said he had reached an agreement with Sanitarium out of court.

Under the agreement he can sell his product as long as the word "Ma'amite" is covered on any labels.

However, Sanitarium will allow him, as a one-off gesture, to sell the jubilee edition with the label "Ma'amite" on the front.

Richmond retailer Bob Wren said an informal agreement between himself and Mr Savage means some of the "Ma'amite" jars are earmarked for him to sell.

He expects to stock it in his Croucher St store, English Bob's Emporium, from next week.

In April last year, it was reported that Sanitarium threatened Mr Wren with legal action if he did not stop selling Weetabix breakfast cereal immediately. Weetabix is the English equivalent of Sanitarium's Weet-Bix product.

Mr Wren said he continued to stock Weetabix after Sanitarium failed to follow up on the threats.

"They walked away because they were getting too much bad publicity," he said. "They know that they can't win."

He said he and Mr Savage were preparing to import around 10,000 jars of English Marmite in two months' time. Mr Wren said he did not expect the return of New Zealand Marmite to affect sales, as the two products appealed to different buyers.

"We're not here to compete with Marmite. We're here to satiate the tastes of the English people who want English Marmite.

Mr Savage said Sanitarium had been "trying to bully me and they didn't think I'd go through with it to go to court, but I stuck to my guns and they've backed down. I would have fought them all the way to court".

Sanitarium general manger Pierre van Heerden said he was pleased to have settled the matter out of court.

"Marmite has been an iconic brand in New Zealand for more than 100 years," he said.

"We have no issue with the product [Mr Savage imported] itself, but with the brand."

It was not an issue of "marmageddon" (New Zealand's Marmite shortage). The issue was of protecting the Marmite trademark.

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"Rob felt he had a right to import [British] Marmite and sell it without covering the labels at all."

Marmite is trademarked to Sanitarium in New Zealand, to Unilever in Britain and to Pioneer Food Group in South Africa. All three products have a distinct flavour and recipe.

Sanitarium's Marmite will be back on shelves by March 20.

- Nelson

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