Weetabix wars: British shop in New Zealand wins part of fight against cereal giant

Eleanor Ainge Roy in Dunedin

Antipodean breakfast giant Sanitarium has lost part of its case against a British shop in New Zealand, with a judge ruling that importing the British cereal Weetabix did not breach the Fair Trading Act.

However, the high court did find that the shop, A Little Bit of Britain, had breached the Trade Marks Act and 108 boxes of Weetabix held by customs must be destroyed, RNZ reported.

Further boxes of Weetabix for sale in the shop would have to have their labels covered , the judge ruled.

Last year customs officers in New Zealand seized and impounded a shipment of Weetabix after complaints from Sanitarium that the British cereal could confuse customers with their own product, Weet-Bix.

The pallet of Weetabix arrived in a container load of British goods destined for the shelves of A Little Bit of Britain grocery store in Christchurch, which largely caters to British expats.

But Sanitarium claimed the cereal shipment of Weetabix infringed its trademark cereal Weet-Bix, which is a staple in many New Zealand homes.

Sanitarium took its case to the high court but in a reserved decision on Tuesday, Justice Gendall found there was no chance of customers being confused because Weetabix cereal was only available at a speciality goods store selling British products.

Lisa Wilson, the co-owner of A Little Bit of Britain accused Sanitarium of “bullying” her small, family-run business.

“They are trying to force us to do what they want because they are a multimillion-dollar company.”

Other British goods stores in the North Island have complied with Sanitarium’s demands to cover up the Weetabix label when they sell the product.

Wilson said her grocery store sold about seven boxes of Weetabix a day to mostly British immigrants. She said the look, taste and packaging of Weet-Bix and Weetabix were completely different and could not be easily confused.

The detained shipment of Weetabix drew scorn from British expats and New Zealanders alike, some of whom said they would start boycotting Sanitarium’s products in New Zealand. The hashtag #freetheweetabix was also widely shared among supporters.