The director of a Reform Fitness gym in Mt Maunganui has been criticised for putting zero per cent Pals drink cans in her kids' lunchboxes - but she insists it was a "gag".
The popular drinks company has just brought out an alcohol-free version of their sparkling seltzer, with the same packaging as the alcoholic version.
The gym director behind the Mt Maunganui branch of Reform Fitness posted an Instagram story with a snap of the purple cans in her children's lunchboxes, captioning the post, "Perfect addition to school lunches too".
While the drink is alcohol free, the post raised eyebrows from parents concerned about what message it was sending, as it is illegal for zero percent alcoholic beverage alternatives to be sold or marketed to children.
A screenshot of the post shared around Twitter quickly gathered reaction online.
"Please tell me this is a joke. A really s*** one," one user commented.
"I'm already imagining young kids grabbing the wrong Pals from the fridge for an after school drink ... very irresponsible marketing. And not from Pals," one wrote.
"Wow putting a non alcoholic drink in a school lunch! How irresponsible," another said.
The post was also shared on several private parenting Facebook groups and on Instagram, with many questioning the intention behind the photo.
When contacted by the Herald, the gym owner replied that it was simply a "gag" and she had not sent her children to school with the beverages.
"Just like I have the personal rights to pop down to the booze shop and purchase a zero per cent Heineken and put it into my kids lunch boxes. For a gag," she claimed.
While stating she wasn't an influencer and had no influence over her gym accounts 4,483 followers, the owner went on to claim the joke was aimed at the general population and their gymgoers.
"A lot of my content is appealing to the general population and our clients who can have a laugh, not those who have the capacity to spin something completely out of context and actually think I sent my kids to pre-school and school with a Pal in their lunch boxes.
"We're just a small NZ business doing our own thing, having a few gags along the way with our clients and followers."
"My kids, and the lunchboxes they were in, (remembering it was just momentarily, they then got taken out) were not influenced at all. Not one bit. No kids were sent to school or preschool with them either under my influence."
She also said she was aware that it was illegal to market the drinks to children but said "kids can't buy these particular drinks so they probably won't go to school with them".
Although it was not made clear in the original post, she said it was not sponsored by Pals, despite tagging the brand in the Instagram story.
According to the Advertising Standards Authority, it must be made clear in social media posts whether or not products featured in them have been sponsored or paid for.
Asked if she had considered ASA regulations before sharing the post, she responded that she did not know what these regulations were and "didn't really care".
A representative for Pals confirmed the gym had not been asked or paid to promote their product.
"Pals does not condone this behaviour and has been in touch with the person in question to reiterate that the Pals Zero Alcohol can only be sold and consumed by those over 18, like all products in the zero alcohol category," the spokesperson said.
"Pals is an alcohol brand and regardless of the product, we will never market to children.
"We understand the distress it caused people seeing this story, as it did us. Unfortunately, we don't have control over how someone decides to speak about our products but moving forward we will take additional steps to ensure people understand that all Pals products are R18, no exception."