Press Release – Commerce Commission
A health supplement company and its owner have been fined a total of $526,500 for breaching the Fair Trading Act by claiming bee pollen was New Zealand-made, when in fact it was produced and processed in China.“Made in New Zealand” bee pollen was Chinese
A health supplement company and its owner have been fined a total of $526,500 for breaching the Fair Trading Act by claiming bee pollen was New Zealand-made, when in fact it was produced and processed in China.
In sentencing  in the Auckland District Court, Judge Dawson said “the untrue statements are blatant fabrications and lies”, and that the defendants needed to be “held accountable for their blatantly misleading and knowingly untruthful promotion of their product.”
Jeffrey Bernard Cook is a director and the principal shareholder of Topline International Ltd (Topline), which sold pollen under the NatureBee brand, mostly for export.
Mr Cook was fined $121,500 on 22 charges, and Topline was fined $405,000, also on 22 charges. The fine against Mr Cook is among the highest fines imposed under the Fair Trading Act against a director. The sentences included discounts for Topline and Cook’s co-operation and guilty pleas.
“Topline’s promotional material attempted to take advantage of New Zealand’s ‘clean green’ reputation, and it went on for four years. Topline only stopped mis-labelling NatureBee products when it became aware the Commission was investigating,” said Commissioner Anna Rawlings.
Topline has sold NatureBee potentiated pollen since 2000. Potentiation is a process Topline and others claim makes the pollen more digestible for humans, by partially crushing it.
“Initially, Topline sold bee pollen which was accurately described as coming from New Zealand. Around 2005 Topline began using Chinese pollen and it altered its labelling to remove any reference to New Zealand. Then in 2011 the New Zealand-made claim was added back to the NatureBee labelling, although the pollen continued to be sourced from China. It was simply untrue that the products were New Zealand-made and there was no way consumers could tell the Chinese origin of the pollen from the labelling,” said Ms Rawlings.
The Commission’s investigation showed that from 31 May 2011 to June 2015 Topline and Mr Cook made various untrue representations, including:
• NatureBee labels stated pollen was “MADE IN NEW ZEALAND”
• the NatureBee website stated that the pollen was from “the hardworking bees of New Zealand’s pristine wilderness”
• NatureBee promotional material said “New Zealand bee pollen is the best quality you can buy”
• in an infomercial on Korean-language service HiTV in early 2015, Mr Cook said the pollen was “collected from the wilderness of New Zealand’s pristine South Island”.
Judge Dawson said if the ‘Made in New Zealand’ label “was important to the consumers then their lack of knowledge as to the true origin of the product deprived them of the choice to not use it or to instead use other products.” The incorrect labelling also had potential to damage all other exporters using Made in New Zealand labelling and to “damage this country’s image for its products sold overseas.”
Ms Rawlings said “Consumers need to be able to trust these sorts of representations. Breaching that trust harms consumers, other competing businesses and New Zealand’s reputation in export markets.”
Claims such as those made by Topline and Mr Cook are commonly referred to as “credence” claims. These are claims consumers must take at face-value and on trust because they cannot be easily verified by the consumer themselves. Credence claims are a current area of focus for the Commission.
The Commission has several credence investigations underway but is unable to comment on them at this time. There have been three recent court judgments, including:
• Yoghurt Story  companies fined $70,000 in October 2016 for falsely claiming their products were yoghurt
• in July 2016 the High Court found that NZ Nutritionals made misleading “New Zealand made”  claims about two dietary supplements
• duvet and rug business Nangong Limited and its owner were fined $109,000 in May 2016 over false claims that their duvets contained alpaca wool and were made in New Zealand .