An Auckland-based export company has apologised for the uproar caused after using a Maori name and icons to brand and export its infant formula bound for China.
Attempts by ONE News to contact Kiaora New Zealand International directors finally yield an apology today.
Kiaora's NZ general manager Sean Xu said they are sorry to have caused cultural offence, which the company did not intend, and they will rebrand their products to remove any Maori references.
He said the product would be redesigned "in a way that still promotes its New Zealand manufacture".
Xu said the company had only began selling New Zealand export infant formula in March. He said it met all New Zealand export regulations and was manufactured by a leading New Zealand dairy product manufacturer.
Kiaora New Zealand is not on MAF's list of registered dairy exporters because the manufacturer is the registered exporter.
The issue started with cultural concerns expressed by Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia who initially criticised the use of Maori imagery and words. The logo on the formula's tin is of a Maori woman and the packaging features a picture of a marae in a field surrounded by cows.
Turia feared the product was being targeted at Maori women, but it is an export product made by a well-established NZX-listed company.
"We can't put up with companies coming in to our country, appropriating our cultural icons, our women, our marae and thinking that it's okay to use these to brand their milk formulas," she said.
Turia then sought to raise food safety concerns on the product, apparently prompting the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to say it would investigate the product.
NZ Food and Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich said New Zealand is seen as a high-quality source of food and that reputation needs to be protected.
Compliance and Enforcement director Geoff Allen said MAF would look into possible breaches of labelling requirements and advertising claims because the council was concerned about the product's claims, which said it is a mainstream New Zealand band loved by Kiwi mums when it is actually not available in the country.
MAF has since given Kiaora New Zealand International Limited the all-clear into food safety and export issues of the formula but it is still looking into whether the company has made any false claims in its marketing.
The contract manufacturer, New Image, was briefly dragged into the row. It issued a statement to say its subsidiary, Food Contractors, makes the formula and delivers it to a client, Kiaora New Zealand, which markets and promotes the product.
New Image is a contract manufacturer for several brands of milk product, and the Heitiki formula carried export-compliant manufacturer licence details, but no country of origin details.
New Image said the labelling and imagery on the Heitiki product was supplied by Kiaora and approved by the China Export and Inspection Quarantine Department. It was made for export to China.