November 12th, 2012
Mr Ji found still more about about Chinese brands selling infant formula produced by Sutton Group, two articles online and a Word document that looks like it comes from AQSIQ.
First up is Qinbei’s article taking a rather general look at AQSIQ’s list of substandard imported food and cosmetic products for August. It’s a fairly equal opportunities article lacking that focus on the dodgy New Zealand produce in other articles I’ve seen of late, but it does raise two products with an apparent New Zealand connection.
First is 优萌/Ustrong, which Qinbei says is from Singapore. Odd, because both Mr Ji and I trace it to Hong Kong. I also found Ustrong .com and .com.cn websites, but I get a 403 warning trying to open them. Not sure what’s going on there. As Mr Ji said in his comment, Ustrong does claim to be made in New Zealand. I was intrigued to see 新西兰 on the pictures of the cans, as I thought 纽西兰 was more common in Hong Kong. Whatever, the New Zealand connection is made and Qinbei reports that 5 tons of its stages 1 and 2 formula were found to contain too much sodium and potassium and not enough protein. Maybe its my unfamiliarity with trad characters getting in the way, but I’m not finding any information about who in New Zealand actually makes Ustrong, or precisely where it’s made, or anything similar.
And then Qinbei mentions 奥兰 again, but this time with the ‘English’ name Orkloland. I really can’t figure out if the 奥兰 that uses the ‘English’ name Orkloland is the same as the 奥兰 that goes by ‘Ioland’. But again its the same problem with iodine levels.
And then Mr Ji found this 北京晚报/Beijing Evening Post article playing up the ‘假洋牌’ (fake Western brand) angle, tying it in with other scandals in which brands claiming to be Western were revealed to be purely Chinese. This article reveals another brand claiming to be selling formula made by Sutton Group, 纽瑞滋, which Google suggests is this Nouriz. And then it suddenly starts to look like a bit of a puff piece. It says that Nouriz and Sutton Group fronted to the media for the first time to explain their situation, but nobody from Sutton Group is mentioned and the only independent voice seems to pretty much agree with the founder of Nouriz. The Nouriz founder, Liu Ning, is quoted as saying:
Nouriz is a brand created by Chinese selling imported product in the original packaging.
Nouriz is a family of companies registered both in Shanghai and New Zealand, the entire production process, including packaging, is done in New Zealand by Sutton Group, and the Chinese branch handles sales and after sales service in China. It is also pointed out that as Nouriz infant formula is made in New Zealand and sold in China, it is subject to both countries’ standards and therefore does nothing to weaken Chinese safety standards.
Liu Ning then argues there’s a bit of a misunderstanding. In its marketing material Nouriz emphasises that it is made in New Zealand, it has never claimed to be a Western brand, although some have thought that it is. And looking at their website that does seem to be a reasonable statement. The contact page, for example, lists only Chinese phone numbers and addresses, and the entire site seems entirely devoted to the Chinese market. The “made in New Zealand” claim is out there and emphasised, but I can’t see any claim that Nouriz is anything but a Chinese brand.
And if all of these claims are true, Nouriz infant formula really is produced in New Zealand and really does meet both New Zealand and Chinese standards, then I’m finding it hard to blame Liu Ning or Nouriz. Why shouldn’t they play the ‘Made in New Zealand” angle? Where do they claim to be anything other than a Chinese brand selling infant formula produced in New Zealand?
But the continued 奥兰/Orkloland/Ioland confusion and the frequency with which Sutton Group products are showing up in AQSIQ lists of substandard imported food products really does have me worried. Which brings me to that Word document Mr Ji found. It does look like it belongs to AQSIQ, but buried in the address I saw this: www.ccccq.org. I don’t know what business an electronic and electric appliance quality supervision and inspection station would have with food products, but never mind. The list is interesting. Sutton Group is by no means the only New Zealand company exporting substandard products to China named, but it is there twice, once under its English name, and once under its Chinese name. Under its Chinese name of 新西兰善腾有限公司, Sutton Group is named for exporting to China 奥兰(Ioland/Orkloland) infant formula stages 1, 2 and 3 and stage One 200g that do not meet the iodine content standard and under its English name for exporting to China 佳顿可儿金装婴幼儿配方奶粉/I’m struggling to find an English name for it, but it’s marked as having problems in the selenium, iodine and lactose content/selenium content/selenium content. I assume that’s for stages 1, 2 and 3 respectively. These problems seem rather similar to other problems reported with Sutton Group-produced infant formula.
And so I’m still confused. On the one hand, I can’t see a problem with Chinese brands that source their product in New Zealand and then play up the NZ connection in their marketing. On the other hand, I do see a very big problem for New Zealand if we have companies exporting substandard infant formula. Playing fast and loose with the health of people’s children is not a good long-term marketing strategy. And on yet another hand (I’m going to need Guanyin’s help with hands before too long… ) there’s the huge risk of brands slapping a “Made in New Zealand” label on product that isn’t.
What I do know is that New Zealand has to act to protect its reputation – and not to continue to maintain an undeserved reputation (“clean, green”… clean thanks to the lack of people, green as in the colour of the cowshit-sodden lowland waterways), but to make sure the reputation for quality, clean, pure products is both deserved and preserved. What I also know is that I haven’t seen mention of this problem in New Zealand’s media…