Country of origin claims continue to remain a hot topic for consumers and regulators in New Zealand.

In a recent Consumer NZ report on extra-virgin olive oil products, the consumer watchdog raised the issue of whether stating “New Zealand” on a label is misleading if some of the oil in the product is not local.

In its report, Consumer NZ highlighted that a premium olive oil brand stated “New Zealand” on their product labels, without mentioning where the olives or oil came from. It turns out that not all of their oils are 100% local, and included oil from Australia.

Is not disclosing the origin of imported ingredients, while at the same time promoting “New Zealand” on the label, enough to trigger a misleading representation? Even when the production process entirely takes place in NZ? What if the make-up of the imported ingredient is small, and only to meet seasonal volume supply issues?

These questions come off the back of new regulations that require the disclosure of the country of origin for certain single component foods such as fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, cured pork, fish and shellfish. Many single component foods (such as olive oils) are not covered by the regulations and Consumer NZ is seeking their inclusion under the regulations.

New Zealand cases

In recent years, the New Zealand courts have considered a number of country of origin cases that the Commerce Commission (Commission) has initiated, which demonstrates the claim is an area of interest for regulators:

  • Misleading country of origin of royal jelly supplements

The Commission successfully prosecuted New Zealand Health Food Company Ltd (NZHFC) for claiming its royal jelly supplements were “100% New Zealand”, when in fact the key ingredient came from China.

NZHFC was fined $377,000 after the court agreed that the claims and images used such as the kiwi silhouette and map of New Zealand were “careless” and gave rise to “potential harm to the New Zealand brand”.

You can read more about the case in the Commission’s media release here.

  • Misleading place of origin claim for ham products

Farmland Foods was fined $180,000 for misleading labelling of its ham products.

The court found that the imagery and claims used for the products gave consumers the misleading impression that the products were made from New Zealand reared pork. However, even though processing took place in New Zealand, the majority of the pork used was imported.

Claims used on product labels included “Produced in New Zealand”, “100% NZ owned”, and “Made by New Zealanders for New Zealanders”.

You can read more about the Farmlands case here.

What does this mean for you?

In promoting its products, a business must ensure that any claims made are accurate and not misleading. Unfortunately, when it comes to country of origin claims, there are no hard and fast rules to determine where the line is.

If you want to make country of origin claims, we recommend that you consider:

  • the overall impression that consumers are likely to derive from phrases and imagery used in marketing and on labels;
  • whether your product is substantially transformed during the manufacturing process in the claimed country; and
  • if ingredients are sourced from overseas, whether the proportion of those ingredients in the product will mislead consumers about the product’s country of origin.

In addition, if your business produces single component foods such as fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, cured pork, fish and shellfish, then you will need to comply with the new origin of food regulations.

If you have questions about the claims and labelling requirements for your products, give us a call.

Special thanks to Juliet Bing-Harmon for her assistance in writing this article.


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