New Warriors sponsor still using Maori imagery despite censure for cultural offence.

The new sponsor of the Warriors rugby league team has been using Maori imagery to sell milk powder - despite vowing last year to stop.

Fernbaby assistant director John McCaulay confirmed yesterday that kapa haka-like costumes were used in July at a baby tradeshow in China.

The company was caught doing the same thing in May 2011, while selling the brand Heitiki under the trading name Kiaora New Zealand.

At the time, Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia criticised the marketing ploy as disrespectful of tikanga Maori and said it represented the theft of cultural knowledge.


The company apologised for cultural offence and said the product would be relabelled without reference to Maori culture. It is now known as Fernbaby and this week the firm signed a three-year deal with the NRL franchise.

"Obviously, that was the uniforms they used when they were using the Heitiki branding," Mr McCaulay said.

"It's no longer the case because obviously it doesn't fit ... but you know, it's very easy for things to get lost in translation.

"I went to a baby fair in April. They were using those uniforms then and that was on the basis they were saving money basically.

"I'm just saying China's a massive place - it's certainly not our intention to be causing offence to everybody and we apologised last year at length about it."

Asked if the uniforms would be used in the future, Mr McCaulay said they wouldn't be.

"All I can really give you is an undertaking that it won't be happening again. We'll sort that out straight away."

It's the third knock for the company in three days since announcing the deal with the Warriors.

Bosses were first accused of undermining the breast-feeding message in communities that could benefit most and then forced to delete claims on a Chinese website that Fernbaby was the world's "number 2" baby formula brand.

Mr McCaulay continued his silence yesterday on how much the sponsorship deal was worth, but said brand association with rugby league would help sell a healthy product. "We're known for the oval ball - it's really identifying us as being New Zealand."

The Infant Nutrition Council, which represents the industry in New Zealand, yesterday said any promotion of formula was outside a voluntary Code of Practice which ruled out directly marketing formula to parents.