the plot thickens

November 11th, 2012

And the plot thickens. On Weibo, Mr Ji alerted me to this article. I’m not sure how to interpret the headline (and let’s face it, it takes years of training, supervision, and practice to become proficient in that darkest of arts that is headlinese), but this is on a website run by”中國防偽碼查詢中心有限公司“, giving an English name of “China anti-counterfeiting code inquiry Centre Limited“, and this line sets a clear enough tone for the article:

奥兰奶粉被曝假洋品牌 实为中国宝宝特供奶

Ioland milk powder has been exposed as a fake Western brand, in fact it is exclusively supplied to Chinese babies

At this stage I think ‘fake’ is a touch harsh. If, as this article states and the Ioland website Mr Martinsen found claims, Ioland is made by New Zealand’s Sutton Group, then it is actually ‘Western’ or ‘洋’ in origin, but this article states that Ioland and several other brands of infant formula made for Sutton Group are simply not sold out of China, not even in New Zealand, and are in fact packaged exclusively for sale in China. So, sure, the milk may be ‘Western’, or at least ‘南太平洋’ in origin, and may well have been turned into infant formula in a country generally considered to be ‘Western’, but the brands are ‘fake Western’ in that they are brands sold exclusively in the Chinese market and not available in ‘the West’.

The ‘fake Western’ brands produced by Sutton Group named in the article are: 纽贝贝 (Newbaybay), 奥兰 (Ioland), and 纽贝斯特 (NBST (is that a New Baby Best I see in miniscule print?)), but they come with a 等 – etc – afterwards, so presumably there are others, or at least the reporter or subeditor wants us to think so. Note how they all play up the Made in New Zealand connection? This is not uncommon in the marketing of infant formula in China. Note also that the 纽 in two of those brand names also occurs in the common Hong Kong and Taiwan transliteration of New Zealand that makes an occasional appearance here on the Mainland – 纽西兰/Niǔ Xīlán.

Now, given modern China’s flood of food safety scandals, including fake infant formula of zero nutritional value and adulterated infant formula and the obviously huge investment into children who are often the only ones their parents will be allowed – and increasingly the only grandchildren their grandparents will be allowed – it’s perfectly understandable that Chinese infant formula companies would play up the New Zealand connection when marketing formula they source in New Zealand. It’s also to be expected that companies sourcing their formula right here in China will claim it was made in New Zealand. And it’s a touch ironic that one of the biggest adulterated milk scandals was sparked off by a Fonterra joint venture that turned out to be the worst culprit of all those caught in that scandal, but never mind… But the big questions to ask are, of course:

  1. Is the formula actually manufactured in New Zealand from New Zealand-sourced milk?
  2. Does the formula meet New Zealand and Chinese standards?
  3. Is the formula being exported legally from New Zealand by a registered dairy exporter?

Trouble is, I see no statement in the article Mr Ji sent me that the reporter checked with Sutton Group that Ioland, Newbaybay, NBST, and the apparent other brands of infant formula are actually manufactured by Sutton Group. It is clear that the original reporter sought information on Sutton Group, but it is not clear whence that information was sought. Sutton Group’s website does include brief introductions in Chinese, but says nothing that I can see of the brands it manufactures for. I did email Sutton Group to ask about their relationship with Ioland, but have yet to receive a reply (and fair enough, it is still the weekend, and I’m not anybody important). If I do receive a reply, I might ask about these other brands, too.

But you know what? If these brands are selling infant formula manufactured in New Zealand, that formula is legally exported (and therefore subject to NZ quality controls) and that formula reaches, or preferably exceeds, the standards mandated by Chinese and New Zealand law and relevant regulations, then I have no problem with them playing up the New Zealand connection in their marketing (so long as they don’t confuse the New Zealand and Australian flags, for crying out loud!). It makes absolutely perfect sense for companies to play up the advantages of their products, so if you’re on the up-and-up, then go for it. But I am concerned about how many eggs New Zealand seems to be putting in the “let’s rely on dairy exports to emerging Asia, especially China, for our economic survival” basket, and how quickly and easily that basket could be snatched up, its eggs thrown on the ground and trambled on, and the basket set on fire if too many less than scrupulous  companies start to get too much attention in the media for slapping “made in New Zealand’ labels on product made anywhere but, attracting the ‘fake Western’ brand label, or selling New Zealand product that falls short of the relevant standards.

New Zealand is a tiny economy at the edge of Nowhere, and we really can’t afford to have ourselves shot in both economic feet in our rush to get ahead.

4 Responses to “the plot thickens”

  1. Haidong Ji Says:

    I went to 亲贝网, from where that 商品防伪在线 article was sourced, and did some search using its search function. It didn’t work very well. I then used Google advanced search to look for 奥兰 inside 亲贝’s site, which returned a few hits. One article from the search hits revealed that another brand, Ustrong/优萌, also had quality issues and that batch was not allowed in. Ustrong/优萌 is sold from a company in Hong Kong, and advertise itself as a formula from New Zealand.

    I suspect putting URL links into this comment might mark this as spam so I will put links in a separate comment.

  2. Haidong Ji Says:

    Here is a link about 优萌 quality issue:

    纽瑞滋, another brand from the Sutton group, according to this article from 北京晚报:

    Here is a link to a Word document that looks like from 质检总局,which lists quality/labeling issues with imported baby formulas:

  3. Chris_Waugh Says:

    Great work, Mr Ji, thanks. It’s a bit of a worry how many NZ companies appear on that list, and that Sutton Group is there twice.

    It’s interesting to see newspapers playing the 假洋牌 angle, but if these brands are manufactured by Sutton Group, it’s still NZ produce and NZ’s reputation getting dragged through the mud. I did email Sutton Group to ask about this, but no reply yet.

    Thanks for your help (and glad you got Disqus to work for you).

  4. bezdomny ex patria » Blog Archive » how much more? Says:

    […] 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 […]