Food giant Sanitarium has won a trademark dispute in New Zealand’s High Court this week against Christchurch grocer A Little Bit of Britain for selling a similarly named product to its Weet-Bix cereal.
Sanitarium claimed that British expats could confuse the Weetabix brand for its own Weet-bix.
Justice David Gendall ruled that the Trade Marks Act was breached thus resulting in his decision that Weetabix should only be sold in specialist UK stores and the name must be covered to protect the Weet-Bix brand.
The New Zealand Herald reported that hundreds of boxes of Weetabix arrived in New Zealand in June, but were impounded by customs officers after Sanitarium filed a complaint.
A Little Bit of Britain co-owner Lisa Wilson was told that the cereal would only be released if her company put a sticker over their labels and remove the name Weetabix online. Wilson retaliated by saying that the food giant was “bullying” her small family business.
“It’s not so much about Little Bit of Britain selling Weetabix, but more about the protection of the Weet-Bix trademark,” Sanitarium general manager Rob Scoines told The New Zealand Herald in response to the court decision. “The judgment enables us to protect our brand, which supports the employment of New Zealanders and contributes to the community.”
A survey, released by the court found that 35 per cent of people mistook Weetabix as a Sanitarium product. More than 100 boxes held in customs will be destroyed as per Justice David Gendall’s decision.
Meanwhile, A Little Bit of Britain posted on Facebook picture of the Weetabix box with its label covered and asked customers to suggest new names for the product after the court ruling.
“Woohoo! It’s been such a long time coming but it’s finally done. You can be assured we will be getting Weetabix in our next container. As per the Judge’s ruling, we have to sticker over the Weetabix logo so please help us out and let us know below what you think we should call it. We were thinking ‘confuse a brit’ since they think we are so easily led astray. Get commenting and let us know!”.
Some consumers also reacted to the Weetabix and Weet-Bix debacle on Twitter.
Today I learned there's a big row in New Zealand about Weetabix that means one shop has to sell boxes of it covered up, like contraband. Amazing stuff https://t.co/lAyhcKTHRO
— Jess Brammar (@jessbrammar) September 25, 2018
How stupid is this? At least give the food to people who need it! Weetabix wars: New Zealand to destroy 108 boxes of British cereal https://t.co/76mNUMekNu
— Prof Clive Smallman PhD (@clivesmallman) September 26, 2018
Sanitarium released its Australia-first extension to its iconic Weet-Bix with the Weet-Bix Cholesterol Lowering range in September 2017. The food giant said it was the first one to harness plant sterols to effectively reduce cholesterol levels in a single serve.