By Te Aniwa Hurihanganui of RNZ

Weight-loss company Jenny Craig is defending its decision to continue operating during the lockdown, following public criticism from one of its own regional managers.

Several of the company's employees have been touch with E Tu Union to express their frustration at the company for continuing to operate and claiming it is an essential service.

The company has since sent a statement to RNZ, saying it strongly believes it is an essential service.

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"Our strong view is that our business falls within the NZ Government's category of fast moving consumer goods, providing frozen ready-to-cook meals as well as dry foods for consumption.

Read more: Covid 19 coronavirus: Jenny Craig staff told they are an essential service

"Currently, we are supplying 12,000 members across NZ with around 340,000 meals per month. While we are known to operate in the weight loss space, we are also a food-based business providing ready-to-cook meals which are both healthy and convenient for our members."

The company listed other food-delivery companies which it said provided the same service as them and were still allowed to operate, including Fed, the Village Kitchen, the Food Company and My Food Bag.

RNZ asked MBIE for clarity on whether or not Jenny Craig was an essential service, and the following statement was issued:

"Delivery of prepared meals that are pre-cooked are the same as takeaways and are not covered."

Jenny Craig said in a statement it did not fall under the "takeaway" category.

"Jenny Craig is not and has never been a 'takeaway operation'. We do not have a commercial kitchen at our centres nor do we have employees cooking food at any of our premises. Our food is stored at our local warehouses or suppliers and shipped to centres for picking and packing by our employees.

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"The purpose of the above commentary, in our view, is to prevent restaurants, fast food chains (such as Dominos) as well as delivery companies similar to Uber Eats (who pick up food from a number of restaurants for delivery) from operating.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

"We appreciate that the sale of fresh cooked food for immediate consumption is prohibited in alert level 4. However, Jenny Craig does not fall within this category."

The company said it had approached both MPI and MBIE for further clarity on whether or not it could operate, saying it was advised by an MBIE staff member any emails to the Ministry took at least five days turnaround due to the volume of queries it was receiving.

"She did however ask us to patiently wait for a response, which would be with us soon, however she also indicated that the advice of the MBIE was to continue trading."