UK expat breakfasts in New Zealand wrecked over Weetabix scandal

Published:  30 Jun at 6 PM
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300 boxes of the much-loved British breakfast cereal Weetabix are languishing on a pallet in Kiwi customs due to a complaint from a rival Australian cereal manufacturer.

A container load of British favourites arrived in New Zealand last week, including a pallet of Weetabix destined to be delivered to a grocery serving UK expats. The store, quaintly entitled ‘A Little Bit of Britain’ and run by Lisa Wilson, stocks hundreds of favourite foodstuffs from the home country and is hugely popular with Christchurch’s British expat community.

Unknown to Wilson until she enquired about a delivery date, Kiwi customs officers had blocked the delivery on the order of a rival antipodean cereal manufacturer, equally quaintly named ‘Sanitarium’. The Australian company manufactures a similar product entitled Weet-Bix, and is clearly attempting to corner the British breakfast market in New Zealand.

In a letter to Wilson, it said the order would not be released unless she pledged to cover up the offending Weetabix label on each box. Other Christchurch retailers of British goods have given in to Sanitarium’s unreasonable demands, but Wilson is determined to make a fight of it as she’s furious about the attempt to bully her small, family-owned specialist grocery. She told the Guardian newspaper she was in no way prepared to let the multimillion-dollar company bully her into compliance, adding there’s absolutely no case of trademark infringement against her.

She sells around seven boxes of genuine British Weetabix daily, and states the taste, look and packaging of the rival product is completely different to the original British product. Kiwis, she says, prefer the Australian product, but Brits who’ve grown up with Weetabix wouldn’t buy Weet-Bix under any circumstances. She rejects Sanitarium’s claim that her niche store was attempting to steal customers away from their product, calling the suggestion ‘nonsense’.

General manager of Sanitarium’s New Zealand office Rob Scoines told the media his brand was protected by international law before admitting it has been disallowed under trademark laws from other global markets because of its resemblance to Weetabix. He’s expecting a response from Wilson and, if he’s checking Facebook while he waits, he’ll be aware of comments such as ‘shame on you, Sanitarium’, ‘Weet Bix is revolting, I’d never buy it’ and ‘I’m now boycotting all Sanitarium products’.

Wilson’s take is that she’s happy to go to the high court on the issue, as has one previous retailer in a similar position four years ago, who eventually won on points when Sanitarium let the matter drop.
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