We’ve had problems in the U.S. with companies mislabeling Washington apples and Idaho potatoes, trying to get the benefit of premium name on cheaper produce. In China, the Hermès of produce seems to be the kiwifruit, specifically Zespri kiwifruit. It is like Hermès and Gucci and other famous names because it is so often counterfeited:
New Zealand’s humble kiwifruit ranks with international retail icons such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Oroton and Rolex when it comes to the most commonly counterfeited items, according to an OECD report.
China is the sole source of kiwifruit rip-offs, according to Zespri chief legal counsel Murray Denyer, a contributor to the report which is due out next week.
Kiwifruit had the distinction of being the only fresh fruit to be targeted by counterfeiters, he said.
This was because of the price that premium New Zealand kiwifruit commanded in the Chinese market — as much as 10 times that of local produce. Counterfeiters printed fake labels and packaging to go with local fruit or cheap Chilean imports.
“They are quite inventive with similar-sounding names and strikingly similar packaging. It is easy to trick a Chinese consumer who doesn’t read English — to them it looks the same.”
“What we find is in the big wholesale markets a little guy will be going around selling fake labels and packaging to the small stallholder buying cheap fruit.”
Though the amount of fruit involved was not huge compared with the five million trays worth $50 million sent to China from New Zealand, Zespri acted quickly to close down the counterfeiters when they were discovered.
Some of the operations were on a large scale, Mr Denyer said.
Zespri is taking civil action against one big counterfeit operation that was found to have trademark applications underway as well as a website.
“China is a big growth market for us and as it grows the temptation to copy us will grow. Hopefully, our determination to stamp out counterfeiting will have a deterrent effect,” he said.
“Mainly it is small-scale fly-by-nighter. Our lawyers will write them a rude letter and they will disappear into the woodwork, then someone else will pop up somewhere else.”
As the produce industry becomes more sophisticated with more branding, more extensive marketing and more proprietary varieties that are not obvious to the naked eye, this is a problem that is likely to become more and more prevalent.