Christopher Adams

The Business Herald’s markets and banking reporter.

New China heat on NZ baby formula

NZ reputation for dairy produce continues to get a battering from the Chinese media.

A Chinese mother feed her baby at a shopping mall in Beijing. The reputation of NZ dairy produce is getting a battering in the Chinese media. Photo / David White.
A Chinese mother feed her baby at a shopping mall in Beijing. The reputation of NZ dairy produce is getting a battering in the Chinese media. Photo / David White.

New Zealand's lucrative reputation for high-quality dairy produce continues to get a battering from the Chinese media, despite efforts by this country's government to reassure consumers in the world's second-biggest economy that Kiwi milk products are safe.

In May China's CCTV network broadcast a series of highly critical news stories about New Zealand infant formula, which questioned manufacturing standards and claims some New Zealand-made brands were making in their Chinese marketing.

This week, the China Daily newspaper reported that imported brands accounted for almost two-thirds of the 744 infant formula-related complaints received by the China Consumers' Association during the first half of this year.

The article does not name any of the brands that received complaints, or which countries they were imported from.

But New Zealand - which exports around $2 billion of dairy products to China a year, including around $200 million of infant formula - is mentioned repeatedly through the article.

The story uses the example of Heitiki, a New Zealand-made formula brand that used to be exported to China, saying it claimed to be a "top brand" in this country but "was discovered in 2011 to be registered by Chinese businesspeople and unknown to New Zealanders".

"Some so-called foreign brands are not really worthy of their name," Qiu Baochang, head of the China Consumers' Association's legal team, told the China Daily. "They're high in price but inferior in quality."

Heitiki came under fire in New Zealand for using Maori imagery in its marketing and the company that markets the product - owned by a group of Chinese investors - rebranded its formula as Fernbaby last year and became a sponsor of the Warriors rugby league team.

The China Daily said quality issues with baby milk - including the presence of foreign objects such as worms and iron wire inside cans of product - accounted for almost 90 per cent of the complaints received by the Consumers' Association.

One source told the Business Herald that another Chinese newspaper published an article this month that referred to New Zealand's infant formula industry as a "disaster zone".

Last month the New Zealand Government announced measures aimed at enhancing Chinese consumer confidence about Kiwi infant formula products, including a new requirement that all baby milk manufacturers register the brands they produce with the Ministry for Primary Industries.

- NZ Herald

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