See you in court – is the ultimatum set down by boutique dairy products producer Lewis Road Creamery to global giant Fonterra.
The businesses have been at odds for several weeks now over the similarity of labelling on Fonterra’s new Kapiti premium milk range to Lewis Road bottles, as well as who has access to what shelf space in Foodstuffs’ New World and Pak ‘n’ Save supermarket fridges.
Lewis Road co-founder Peter Cullinane advised Fonterra on Friday that three legal claims were being filed.
They are: misleading conduct in breach of the Fair Trading Act; anti-competitive behaviour in breach of the Commerce Act; and, passing off (a legal argument for protecting unregistered trade marks). Fonterra has rejected them all.
«We’ve been left with no option but to issue proceedings because Fonterra are not willing to listen or back down. We don’t want to go to court but feel we don’t have any choice,» Cullinane said.
Lewis Road lawyers, Kensington Swan, was drafting proceedings to be filed this week. Julian Miles QC is representing Lews Road.
Cullinane said that as one of the country’s largest companies, Fonterra has an «obligation to act reputably».
«This is a serious issue for our company and will be for other companies. We still hope that they see sense and back down.»
Fonterra Brands managing director Leon Clement rejected the claims saying they «are simply not true».
«We’ve reached out to Lewis Road Creamery to let them know they’ve got the wrong end of the stick, so we’re surprised they’ve chosen to take legal action. Despite our attempts to explain this matter to them, they’ve continued to provide incorrect information to New Zealanders through the media.
«This continued attack on our reputation is nowhere near the fair play they’ve been talking about,» Clement said.
Last week, Cullinane said store owners told him that Fonterra was in talks to takeover about 97 per cent of available shelf space in Foodstuffs’ North Island supermarkets.
Foodstuffs would not comment last week except to say it had an agreement in place Fonterra, as it did with other suppliers including Lewis Road Creamery, and that its supplier agreements were confidential.
The labelling argument dates back further – to November when Lewis Road claimed Fonterra had copied its packaging in an attempt to confuse shoppers with it released its Kapiti premium milk range.
«Clearly what they want to do is sort of confuse shoppers … otherwise they’d use their light proof bottles which they made such a song and dance about,» he said.
Fonterra deflected that issue issue saying a cow was a simple,and commonly used, visual cue used on premium milk products and that the rest of the packaging was in line with the Kapiti range of cheeses and ice creams.