Weetabix battle between Sanitarium and A Little Bit of Britain heads to court

Lisa Wilson says she will not back down.

Lisa Wilson says she will not back down.

Sanitarium is preparing to take a New Zealand store selling British groceries to court over its attempts to import Weetabix.

Lisa Wilson operates A Little Bit of Britain, in Riccarton, Kaiapoi and online. She tried to import boxes of the breakfast cereal but the shipment was stopped at the border.

Rob Scoines, general manager of Sanitarium, said his company had a border notice in place that alerted it to breaches of its trademark.

New Zealand Customs seized more than 360 boxes of the cereal.

READ MORE: British mini-mart in Christchurch takes on food giant Sanitarium over Weetabix  [video]

Sanitarium says it can't sell Weet-Bix in Weetabix-dominated markets, so it's only fair that it isn't sold here.

Sanitarium says it can't sell Weet-Bix in Weetabix-dominated markets, so it's only fair that it isn't sold here.

He said it had offered Wilson options including relabelling the product at Sanitarium's cost, buying the shipment, relabelling it and donating it to a foodbank or using a generic brand of the same product.

He said Sanitarium had been stopped from selling Weet-Bix in China and the UK because of trademark concerns. The threat to the company's local and export markets from Weetabix, which had recently been bought by Post Holdings, was significant.

Defending all breaches was important, he said. If a bigger competitor tried to enter the New Zealand market it would be important to show that Sanitarium had done all it could to protect the Weet-Bix name. 

He said other importers had accepted the options that had been offered to Wilson.

"We don't want to go down the legal process. It's not about giving her a hard time. We just want to protect our brand from a very big company called Weetabix."

He said he would be willing to reach an agreement with Wilson immediately - but if the two parties could not, there was no option but a court date.

He said Weetabix would see New Zealand as an appealing market, "even more so if they think they can cash in on the brand equity of Weet-Bix. I would argue that we are the David of this David and Goliath story."

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Wilson said she was preparing to go to court. "I have until September 21 to file papers and my lawyer is working on that at the moment."

She said she was confident she was not infringing the Weet-Bix trademark. "We are not trying to confuse or deceive anyone.  We are just a small-time trader with a British store, our clients are all British and come for a specific product. They wanted us to relabel it which we weren't comfortable with doing."

Wilson said Sanitarium had threatened legal action against the store's previous owner but backed down. 


 - Stuff

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