British Weetabix seized by New Zealand customs in breakfast bowl battle with rival

Cereal is impounded after antipodean rival Weet-Bix argues clients of a UK-goods shop in Christchurch may be confused

Customs policemen in New Zealand have confiscated and confiscated hundreds of boxes of the breakfast cereal Weetabix after complaints by rival cereal giant Weet-Bix that it could confuse customers.

The pallet of Weetabix about 300 boxes arrived in a receptacle load of British goods last week, destined for the shelves of A Little Bit of Britain grocery store in Christchurch, which largely caters to British expats.

But New Zealand customs officials detained the pallet at the request of Sanitarium, which claimed the cereal infringed its trademark cereal Weet-Bix, which is a staple in many New Zealand homes.

This week, Sanitarium sent a letter to Lisa Wilson, the co-owner of A Little Bit of Britain, saying it would release her cereal shipment if she placed a sticker over the offending Weetabix label once the item was on her shelves, and blanked out the name Weetabix when she sold the cereal online.

Other British stores in the North Island have complied with Sanitariums demands, but Wilson has decided to fight the company, which she accuses of bullying her small, family-run business.

Lisa
Lisa Wilson, proprietor of Christchurch speciality shop, A Little Bit Of Britain.

They[ Sanitarium] walk in and slap an agreement down and it is quite daunting for a very small business … they are trying to bully the small guys, Wilson told. They are trying to force us to do what they want because they are a multimillion-dollar company, but we are not willing to bow to Sanitariums demands as we dont believe there is a case of trademark violation here and we are standing up for that principle.

Wilson said her grocery store sold about seven boxes of Weetabix a day to mostly British immigrants. She said the looking, savour and packaging of Weet-Bix and Weetabix were completely different and could not be easily confused.

She said the suggestion a niche grocery store like hers was trying to steal Sanitariums clients was ridiculous.

I dont feel we should have to cover the word up because they are different words and different customers, and the boxes seem nothing alike, she said. They taste different as well. Brits who have grown up on Weetabix like it but Kiwis prefer their Weet-Bix, it isnt a competition.

In a statement Sanitariums general manager in New Zealand, Rob Scoines, was unmoved by her argument. The Weet-Bix brand is protected by international law and in turn it is often precluded from being sold in other global markets due to the Weetabix trade mark, he said. In such instances, we have offered the importer a solution which enables them to sell their product while protecting our Weet-Bix brand. We are actively trying their response.

On social media the detained shipment of Weetabix had depicted scorn from British expats and New Zealanders alike, some of whom said they would start boycotting Sanitariums products in New Zealand. The hashtag # freetheweetabix was also widely shared among supporters.

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Photograph: Facebook

Whatever happened to freedom of choice? posted Marie Shepherd on Facebook. We as consumers have the choice of which brand we would like to purchase. Shame on you Sanitarium.

Preventing access to Weetabix is in no way going to construct me buy Weet-Bix, its revolting, posted Lin Holt, also on Facebook. In fact I dont have much time for bullies so I will not be buying any Sanitarium products at any point in the future!

Wilson said she was prepared to take the case to the high court because a similar suit had progressed to the high court four years ago and Sanitarium eventually let the issues drop.

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