Marmite spat win a 'moral victory'

COURT BATTLE: Customs seized a container of 'Ma'amite', imported by Rob Savage in August.
COURT BATTLE: Customs seized a container of 'Ma'amite', imported by Rob Savage in August.

A Canterbury importer has settled his case with Sanitarium over jars of British Marmite.

Rob Savage has been allowed to sell his imported jars of Ma'amite, labelled in honour of the Queen's diamond jubilee.

Customs seized his container of Ma'amite last August after Sanitarium claimed that selling the spread here would be a trademark infringement.

The case was due to be heard in the High Court in Christchurch on February 19, with Sanitarium seeking to have Savage's goods destroyed.

Savage said today that 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.

"We could've done this ages ago but they tried to impose all sorts of other restrictions on me," he said.

"They've 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 was not available for comment, but the company released a statement this afternoon.

"The Marmite trademark protects Sanitarium's Kiwi-made Marmite as the only spread that can be sold here under that name.  That is why imports of UK Marmite must be relabelled prior to sale in New Zealand," it said.

"However, Sanitarium has always been open to reaching an agreement that would allow the special edition Ma'amite to be sold in New Zealand while protecting the Marmite trademark and is pleased that agreement has now been reached without the need for a court hearing."

The 1908 jars are worth about $15,000, but Savage said he had spent more than that in legal costs.

"I've lost out big time. I am quite annoyed that it's not even jubilee year any more, so these jars don't make much sense,'' he said.

''But it is a moral victory and I want to thank the public for sticking by me." 

Savage said he would continue to import British Marmite but under a different label.

"We think we will go with something with a big Union Jack on it so there's no confusion," he said.

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

The Press