New Zealand's poultry industry is laying a complaint against a company selling "chicken free chicken", saying its marketing could be misleading.

Sunfed Meats, a popular new start up selling a chicken substitute make from pea protein, uses the word "meaty" in its labelling.

The company also markets its product as "chicken free chicken" and uses a picture of a chicken on its packaging.

The meatless meat is flying off shelves, selling out wherever it is stocked.

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Its success has been so overwhelming its founder and chief executive Shama Sukul Lee has already announced she is looking to expand - into beef-free beef and bacon-free bacon.

But not everyone is so enthusiastic about what the company's selling.

Michael Brooks, executive director of New Zealand's poultry industry, says the association has enquired as to whether Sunfed's labelling could be misleading. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Michael Brooks, executive director of New Zealand's poultry industry, says the association has enquired as to whether Sunfed's labelling could be misleading. Photo / Paul Estcourt

The Poultry Industry Association New Zealand (PIANZ) said Sunfed's labelling could be misleading for consumers, laying a complaint with the Commerce Commission.

PIANZ chief executive Michael Brooks said the association had made an "inquiry" about the labelling.

"It's a picture of a chicken and it has a reference to 'meaty' - to meat.

"In our view, it's a product that calls itself chicken-free chicken but had a picture of a chicken and refers to meat but has no meat."

Brooks said it was possible this could confuse or mislead consumers and he had questions about whether it therefore complied with the Fair Trading Act.

He said PIANZ was not objecting to the product itself, just the labelling.

The Commission confirmed it had received a complaint about "chicken free chicken" and a response was being reviewed.

Sunfed Meats founder Shama Sukul Lee says she's not concerned about the Commerce Commission complaint. Photo / Supplied
Sunfed Meats founder Shama Sukul Lee says she's not concerned about the Commerce Commission complaint. Photo / Supplied

Lee thought PIANZ was threatened by a popular new company offering an alternative product.

"I guess we ruffled a few big feathers," she said.

The first Lee knew of the complaint was when she was contacted by media about it.

"If they were really that concerned they could have contacted us first in good faith."

She was not concerned about the complaint saying the Commerce Commission would "see it for what it is".

"It's a big egg trying to not having any small disruptive start-ups take hold. All we're about is creating new options for the consumer."

Endless meat production was not sustainable and Lee had used words and images related to real meat to show "flexitarians" or people looking for occasional alternatives that Sunfed was extremely similar in taste and texture, she said.

"The whole reason we say chicken free chicken is because you can use it like chicken, it's such a good description - it's so clear.

"It's a nice easy way to tell the consumer how to use this product."

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, who in the past has slammed vegetarian alternatives to meat and dairy as being "blatant misdescriptions", said it was not appropriate to comment while the Commerce Commission investigated.

"However, on the issue of mock food - meat is meat," he said.

Deputy PM Winston Peters, who had in the past been vocal about mock meat labelling, declined to comment on the matter - though said
Deputy PM Winston Peters, who had in the past been vocal about mock meat labelling, declined to comment on the matter - though said "meat is meat". Photo / Nick Reed

An Auckland marketing lawyer, who asked not to be named, said Sunfed could find itself in trouble over its use of the word meat, which could be seen as misleading.

Sunfed's marketing often referred to being "meat" or "meaty", rather than clarifying it was "meat-flavoured" or "meat-tasting", she said.

"The company is called Sunfed Meat and it says a new generation of meat on the website. It's not meat, it's got nothing to do with meat."

Consumer New Zealand boss Sue Chetwin said the labelling included enough information about being plant protein and "chicken free" to make it clear the product was not made of meat.

"You do know what you are getting and in a way there's a bit of humour involved with it," she said.

"I'll be interested to see what the Commerce Commission does say."