An infant formula exporter has slammed the service a taxpayer-funded business support centre in Shanghai provided to a delegation of New Zealand companies.
Members of the NZ Infant Formula Exporters Association - led by the group's chair, Michael Barnett - travelled to the Chinese city last month to meet retailers, distributors and Chinese media in an attempt to repair brand damage caused by Fonterra's botulism fiasco.
Barnett has said infant formula exporters are losing up to $2 million of sales a week in China as a result of the scare, which turned out to be a false alarm.
Addressing yesterday's China Business Summit in Auckland, KiwiMilk Nutrition founder Marco Marinkovich said New Zealand Trade and Enterprise's NZ Central business centre had failed to provide an adequate service to the delegation, which held a customer briefing attended by 120 guests at the facility, located in Shanghai's upmarket Xintiandi district.
"We were not welcomed or offered any real support," he said.
According to the NZTE website, NZ Central "aims to assist New Zealand companies to establish greater brand visibility, stronger connections, and capability to grow business in China".
Marinkovich said the delegation arrived to find an empty room with a podium sitting in one corner.
"I thought, 'Gee, if we've got a room filled with 120 people, standing, you won't be able to see Michael [Barnett]'."
Marinkovich said he couldn't find any staff at the venue to help raise the podium and ended up grabbing some crates of Moa beer that Barnett could stand on.
A staff member eventually appeared and found some more suitable equipment for raising the podium, he said.
A NZTE spokeswoman said the facility was provided free of charge and public relations support was also provided to the infant formula exporters group.
"We don't provide a full event management service at NZ Central - businesses or groups using the venue generally manage their own set-up," the spokeswoman said. "But we always want to provide as much support as we can to businesses or industry groups, so we're keen for feedback and disappointed that we didn't meet [the infant formula exporters'] expectations."
Marinkovich said small-scale infant formula exporters were the "collateral damage" of the "botch up" and not enough effort had been put into getting the message to Chinese consumers, and that country's media, that no contamination had occurred.
"In my view, there was [in general] no leadership, no management and no co-operation or recovery plan that focused on the false alarm," he said.
Earlier in the day, Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings told the summit that a "she'll be right attitude" was one of the causes of the botulism scare. He said Fonterra was world class in manufacturing and food safety but still needed to "lift its game".
"That was one [of] the key learnings [of the botulism scare] - a 'she'll be right' attitude is not acceptable," he said.
Spierings said Fonterra, which is facing a damages claim from French dairy firm Danone in relation to the scare, needed to become "the Nasa of food safety and quality".