Canty importer in Marmite wrangle
A Canterbury importer is accusing Sanitarium of "it's our Marmite or no-one's" after the company blocked his shipment of a limited edition British-made version.
The Kiwi-made spread has been a rare commodity since production was suspended because of earthquake damage to Sanitarium's Christchurch factory.
Customs seized the container of "Ma'amite", imported by Rob Savage, last Friday after Sanitarium claimed selling the spread here would be a trademark infringement.
Savage said he did not import the product because of the shortage of Marmite in New Zealand.
"I'm aware New Zealanders don't buy British Marmite. It's a matter of preference. I'm not trying to make anyone like it," he said.
Savage said he had imported the spread in the past without any issues and felt it did not breach the trademark as the two products were clearly different.
The imported spread, normally called Marmite, is labelled "Ma'amite" as the jar is a limited edition in honour of the Queen's diamond jubilee, he said.
"There's no confusion at all. Sanitarium are taking away the freedom of choice. It's our Marmite or no-one's Marmite. They're enforcing a monopoly," Savage said.
He said Customs was due to send the stock to their legal team in Wellington to make a decision on the fate of the 2000 jars, worth about $15,000.
Savage was able to claim his other items.
Sanitarium New Zealand general manager Pierre van Heerden said the company did not have any issue with the product, just the name. Although spelt differently, it phonetically sounded the same.
"That's why they used it in the UK, because everyone knows it sounds like that," he said.
Van Heerden said Sanitarium had owned the Marmite trademark since 1921.
"We've spent a lot of money protecting the brand, making it an iconic Kiwi brand,'' he said.
''I know Rob feels hard done by, that it's a British institution, but similarly it's a Kiwi institution. The expats can still have their taste of home with Our Mate."
But Savage said Our Mate, which is sold here, was no comparison to British Marmite.
"There wouldn't be a demand for it otherwise. I only bring in what people require," he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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