Delivery giant UberEats has blocked an Auckland kava bar from using its platform, despite deciding to allow Kiwis to order alcohol on the popular app.
Auckland kava bar Four Shells, which opened in 2019, has made two attempts to get on the app and been rebuffed twice.
Todd Henry, who owns Four Shells with his wife 'Anau, told the Herald that the decision was "bizarre".
He said the bar, which also offers a takeaway service, first applied in 2019 and tried again in the wake of Uber Eats' decision to begin delivering alcohol.
On their first attempt, Uber Eats initially showed an interest in working with Four Shells before reversing its decision.
Correspondence seen by the Herald shows an Uber Eats representative expressing enthusiasm for the idea before replying to say the process had "hit a roadblock with our compliance team".
"The decision is that kava is not currently sold on our platform in ANZ," the representative said.
When Four Shells questioned the decision, citing Uber Eats' allowing delivery of kava in other markets and asking what "the legal basis for discriminating against Pasifika foods is", emails from the tech giant dried up.
Henry questioned whether the delivery giant was applying Australian law to New Zealand.
Laws around the drink are much more restrictive across the Tasman, where the import, advertising and sale of kava is strictly controlled.
Henry said he had accepted their first rejection in the wider context of UberEats' refusal to deliver alcohol but in light of their decision to deliver that product he was disappointed by being denied again.
"We know all of the social problems are caused by alcohol. How can they justify not considering kava when it's completely different?" said Henry.
Henry told the Herald that, during level 3 lockdown, they had remained open for contactless takeaway and offered a delivery service that had formed a "pretty substantial" part of the business.
He revealed that they frequently delivered to Managed Isolation facilities, where there was initially some questions asked but it was "never an issue".
He said they wanted Uber Eats as an option to reach more customers and doing deliveries full-time wasn't practical for the small business.
In response to enquiries from the Herald, an Uber Eats spokesperson said that they were aware of the situation and would be reviewing their guidelines.
Henry said many New Zealanders remained "closed-off" to kava.
"We see people come in all the time with all these misconceptions about kava," he added, saying international visitors were regularly surprised by the reluctance of Kiwis of non-Pasifika descent to embrace the drink.
He said he had seen people who came into the bar quickly have their minds changed on kava, which he said many people still thought of as "illicit".
The drink, made from the roots of the Piper methysticum plant, has a long history of use in the Pacific and differing kava cultures can be found across islands in Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia.
The drink has been growing in popularity across New Zealand in recent years and is increasingly consumed in non-traditional settings.
It is entirely legal in New Zealand, regulated as a food under the Food Standards Code.
The legal standing of the drink has been further solidified by a recent decision by an international food standards body.
The Codex Alimentarius Commission last year established that the root, when mixed with water, was legally a drink and the decision allows countries across the world to trade kava drinks.