Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters is disappointed by the sale of iconic Kiwi brand Tip Top to a European company, saying it is a "sad day" for New Zealand.

He also appeared to point the finger at previous Fonterra management for letting the brand be sold overseas.

Tip Top – which was owned by New Zealand dairy co-operative Fonterra – has been sold to Froneri for $380 million

Froneri is a joint venture between PAI Partners and Nestle and is the second-largest manufacturer of ice cream in Europe.

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Speaking at the Prime Minister's post-Cabinet press conference this afternoon, Peters said the sale was "brought about by circumstances which may not be in the total control of Fonterra's current management."

He said Tip Top was an important brand in New Zealand, because of the value it adds to raw dairy.

"You may well say the circumstances of Fonterra's management, under which some people got paid multi-million dollars in salaries, has led to … an added-value company and operation like that going into offshore ownership."

When he was an opposition MP, Peters referred to Fonterra's former chief executive Theo Spierings' pay as a "fat cat payout" and criticised his leadership.

Peters said the need for value-add products was important – "how are we [New Zealand] going to make it if we don't understand that message?"

Asked if that was the Government's message, he said it was the "view of every rational, sane person who looks at the kind of economy we are."

He said it was time for some reflection, especially given the fact Westland Milk recently signed a conditional scheme agreement to be sold to a Chinese company, for $588 million.

Today's sideswipe against Fonterra's management is by no means the first time Peters has criticised the dairy giant's leadership.

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In June last year, he said heads should roll at Fonterra's top brass, after it unveiled a hefty loss.

"I think that a massive multi-hundreds-and-hundreds-of-millions-of-dollar loss needs an explanation, it needs a response in the market, there needs to be some accountability. Heads should roll and they should have rolled some time ago."

New Zealand First's Primary Industries spokesman Mark Patterson said the party was disappointed by Tip Top's sale.

"If we are to build a value-added future for our economy, keeping the ownership of brands like Tip Top in Kiwi hands is critical," he said.

"The sale also exposes the state of Fonterra's underlying debt position following its acquisition of troubled Chinese food manufacturer Beingmate, now unable to provide the investment and focused ownership required for the brand's continued success."