So near and yet so far - 2000 jars of British-made Marmite are sitting on the docks at Lyttelton, but shoppers are not allowed to get their hands on it.

While Kiwi Marmite is as rare as hen's teeth since the closure of Sanitarium's quake-damaged Christchurch factory, the company is blocking imports of the British version in a trademark dispute.

Customs seized a container of the black stuff on Friday after Sanitarium claimed selling it here would be a breach of copyright.

Kaiapoi-based importer Rob Savage says it is unfair that he cannot access the load, which is worth about $11,700.


"I'm not going to be able to get the Marmite unless Sanitarium kindly tell me I can have it. You've got a company running the country - this is what it seems like."

He claims there is absolutely no breach of copyright as the two Marmites are completely different, something which the average consumer of Marmite is perfectly aware of.

"UK Marmite looks totally different and is totally different to Kiwi Marmite - plus there is no Kiwi Marmite even available.

"The funny thing is, New Zealanders don't want UK Marmite - even with the shortage - and the Brits don't want Kiwi Marmite."

A Sanitarium spokeswoman, Helen Achilleos, said the company had held the trademark for Marmite since 1929 and had invested in the brand sincethen.

"Imported goods can enter the New Zealand marketplace provided they comply with local regulations, including the protection of existing local trademarks.

"As an example, the English Marmite product is freely available in New Zealand as Our Mate, so expats can enjoy their taste of England without contravening New Zealand-owned trademarks."

Customs spokeswoman Helen Keyes said the decision to seize the cargo was in line with customs practice.


Customs yesterday allowed Mr Savage to obtain other items from his container but the Marmite remained out of bounds.

In April Sanitarium threatened Bob Wren in Nelson for selling the product in his British goods shop.