Hawke's Bay beets "are the best"

By Patrick O'Sullivan

Hawke's Bay growers have struck back at claims from Australian millionaire Dick Smith that our beetroot is "poor quality".

Heinz Australia has threatened to sue Mr Smith, who it says made a false claim on the label of his Smith's Magnificent Sliced Beetroot on sale in Australia.

The label says: "When American-owned Heinz decided to move its beetroot processing facility from Australia to New Zealand causing hundreds of lost jobs, we decided enough is enough.

"So we are fighting back against poor quality imported product."

Hawke's Bay grower Mark Apatu said the claims are bogus.

"Our beetroot is fantastic," he said.

"We've been growing beetroot for 35 years.

"Our quality and yield is world class and our flavours are magnificent."

Heinz Australia corporate affairs manager Andrew Hewett said the company took exception to the inflammatory nature of the comments and had threatened to sue, which Mr Smith was using to gain free publicity.

"Heinz believes that the statements were either incorrect or misleading," Mr Hewett said.

"We found it unfortunate that in order to try and promote sales of his own products, Dick Smith felt the need to reference other brands in the market rather than relying on the attributes of his own products."

Heinz sent a letter to Mr Smith, pointing out its concerns, which Mr Smith made public.

"In an effort to effectively gain free advertising for his own products, Dick Smith chose to forward a private letter to the media. Heinz stands by the decisions it made in relation to the manufacture of beetroot and also the quality of its products.

"We take pride in the quality of our products, and our support of Australian manufacturing, employing more than 1200 people Australia-wide.

"We will continue to view this as a private matter between Heinz and Dick Smith and treat it accordingly.

"We are not interested in furthering Dick Smith's efforts to gain publicity and therefore will refrain from making any further comments," Mr Hewett said.

Heinz' letter to Mr Smith said the shift of production to New Zealand had caused minimal job losses and its products were high quality.

"Your statements in relation to both job losses and poor quality are factually incorrect," the letter said.

"Our position is that the statement has caused and continues to cause damage to the reputation of Heinz, together with pecuniary loss to our business."

It demanded Mr Smith re-label his cans or face court action.

Mr Smith, who founded the Dick Smith retail chain, has said the re-labelling would cause his food company to go broke.

He told Radio New Zealand there was "a bit of marketing in what I'm saying" and that the New Zealand product was different.

"I presume it's the different soil or the different style of beetroot you have there," he said.

He said multinational companies were perilous to deal with.

"It might be New Zealand today but I can tell you that, just as the Aussie farmers got dumped and everyone got thrown out of their jobs - that will happen to you next.

"You'll never be able to compete with China, or Swaziland, or South America."

Hawke's Bay's beetroot harvest is in full swing, with quantity up 50 per cent on last year's crop - which was a big increase on the year before.

Heinz shifted production of sauces, beetroot and some canned meal products from three Australian plants in 2011, with the reported loss of more than 300 Australian jobs, and spent $5 million upgrading its Hastings plant to cater for the exports to Australia.

Hawke's Bay Vegetable Growers Association chairman Scott lawson said Heinz expanded its production in Hawke's Bay because of the consistent high quality of its crops.

"We have a market edge," he said.

"Our soils are higher quality and our water is higher quality - and quantity.

"We grow a superior product. Heinz wouldn't risk their market reputation if that was not the case."

Heinz Wattie's declined to comment on Mr Smith's claims.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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