A health supplement company and its owner have been fined $526,500 for selling "New Zealand made" bee pollen which was actually produced in China.
Topline International Ltd, which sold pollen under the NatureBee brand, mostly for export, was fined $405,000 on 22 charges, with its director and principal shareholder Jeffrey Bernard Cook fined $121,500 on 22 charges.
In sentencing in the Auckland District Court, Judge Dawson said, "the untrue statements are blatant fabrications and lies", and that the defendants needed to be "held accountable for their blatantly misleading and knowingly untruthful promotion of their product".
Cook's fine was among the highest imposed under the Fair Trading Act against a director.
The sentences included discounts for Topline and Cook's co-operation and guilty pleas.
Commissioner Anna Rawlings said Topline's product was initially from New Zealand.
Around 2005, the company began using Chinese pollen and altered its label to remove the New Zealand reference.
In 2011 however, the New Zealand-made claim was added back to its label, despite the product continuing to be sourced from China.
"It was simply untrue that the products were New Zealand-made and there was no way consumers could tell the Chinese origin of the pollen from the labelling," Rawlings said.
The commission's investigation found a number of misleading claims and representations made by Topline.
These included claims the pollen was made in New Zealand, that it was from "the hardworking bees of New Zealand's pristine wilderness", that it was collected from New Zealand's South Island and that New Zealand bee pollen was the best quality you could buy.
"Topline's promotional material attempted to take advantage of New Zealand's 'clean green' reputation, and it went on for four years," Rawlings said.
"Topline only stopped mis-labelling NatureBee products when it became aware the Commission was investigating."
Judge Dawson said the incorrect labelling had potential to damage all other exporters using made in New Zealand labelling and could damage the country's image for its products sold overseas.
Rawlings said consumers needed to be able to trust labels and representations from companies.
"Breaching that trust harms consumers, other competing businesses and New Zealand's reputation in export markets," she said.
The commission has investigated a number of similar cases including most recently with Yoghurt Story, which was fined $70,000 in October for falsely claiming its products were yoghurt.
• Yoghurt Story companies fined $70,000 in October 2016 for falsely claiming their products were yoghurt.
• In July 2016 the High Court found that NZ Nutritionals made misleading "New Zealand made" claims about two dietary supplements.
• Duvet and rug business Nangong Limited and its owner were fined $109,000 in May 2016 over false claims that their duvets contained alpaca wool and were made in New Zealand.