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Potter Brothers has released a statement (Photo: Tina Tiller)
Potter Brothers has released a statement (Photo: Tina Tiller)

KaiMarch 15, 2023

‘Young, excitable and naïve’: Potter Brothers admits to altering ‘bulk product’

Potter Brothers has released a statement (Photo: Tina Tiller)
Potter Brothers has released a statement (Photo: Tina Tiller)

The small chocolate company facing scrutiny over allegedly using commercially produced lollies to make its upmarket products has released a statement admitting the truth. Stewart Sowman-Lund reports.

The chocolate company accused of misleading customers with its “handcrafted” claims has admitted altering a commercially mass produced “bulk product” to make some of its products.

The Spinoff reported last week that Potter Brothers, a small company in Levin, had been accused by customers of recoating what appeared to be regular pineapple lumps, such as those made by Pascall or Rainbow Confectionery, and then labelling them as “handmade” or “handcrafted”.

The claims all stemmed from a video originally shared to Instagram back in 2020 by former Great Kiwi Bake Off finalist Courtnay Adele. At the time, her personal investigation never made it beyond her own social media. But since resharing her claims to TikTok last week, she’s received well over a million views across three videos.

There had been radio silence from the company since the claims recirculated last week. Potter Brothers had updated its website to remove references to being “handmade”, but ignored repeated approaches from The Spinoff and other media outlets, instead posting to Facebook before the weekend with a promise to address the concerns in the near future. 

But now, in a written statement, Potter Brothers co-founded Joe Potter has confirmed that his company, launched over five years ago “in our Wainuiomata flat”, had been altering products made commercially by other companies.

It all started with the original launch of the company back in 2017, he said. “At that time, and in the period immediately following, one of our processes involved hand-coating a bulk product which is only commercially available to make our Pineapple Chews, however 50% of our other fillings were made fully in house,” Potter said.

“Today, we have 16 products in our range and 80% of the fillings are made by us, fully inhouse.

“As our business has grown, thanks to the support of our customers, we have been able to invest more in our operation, skills and capability. We now make core ingredients, like pineapple nougat, ourselves, at our factory in Levin, using a hands-on process.”

Consumer NZ told The Spinoff last week that altering a mass-produced product by hand was likely a breach of New Zealand’s fair trading laws. “Any advertising and marketing material on food packages must comply with the Fair Trading Act and the Food Act. If something is labelled as ‘handmade’ it must be made by hand,” a spokesperson said. 

According to Potter, the company started to change the words “handmade” to “small batch” on its products’ packaging about a year ago. This was, said Potter, a “better representation” of the products. However, this had not been reflected on the website and bags with the handmade label were still recently available in stores.

“When we started, we were young, excitable and naïve, and didn’t consider how the use of some words in our content may not be appropriate,” Potter said.

“This was not intentional and these are learnings that have been taken to heart in recent times.”

Potter added: “Updating our website to reflect this personal and professional growth has been an ongoing, long-term project, but we acknowledge that there has been a particular focus on this in the past week.”

A video response in-line with their statement was also posted to Facebook overnight.

Courtnay Adele, whose videos first put the spotlight on Potter Brothers, told The Spinoff today she was pleased that after two years it had finally been confirmed the company was using mass produced lollies. “I’m glad to hear they are starting to make more products in house and I hope it goes well for them,” she said.

It’s believed that Potter Brothers had been using products sold by the Rainbow Confectionery company as the basis for its Pineapple Chews and at least one other product, chocolate covered jellies. However, Rainbow Confectionery’s general manager refused to comment when approached by The Spinoff last week.

Pascall, the producers of the most widely recognisable pineapple lumps, confirmed to The Spinoff it has no commercial relationship with Potter Brothers – but a spokesperson told 1News the confectionery brand was following the story with interest.

Potter Brothers’ Pineapple Chews (Image: The Spinoff)

Since The Spinoff’s first report, there have been at least three complaints lodged about Potter Brothers with the Commerce Commission. So far, the watchdog has not committed to an investigation into the company but said it would be assessing the complaints to determine whether a law breach had been committed. 

“Our assessment looks at the nature of allegations and whether they potentially raise a concern under the Fair Trading Act,” spokesperson Vanessa Horne said. “When considering whether to open an investigation, we consider the available information for relevance to the Commission’s responsibilities and current work programme, our enforcement criteria, and priority areas for new enforcement work. 

“We receive thousands of enquiries every year and, while we assess everything that we receive, we are unable to investigate everything.”

Potter Brothers has 14 employees and the company was “fully committed” to producing quality products.

While the chocolate company has released a statement to the media, it continues to reject The Spinoff’s requests for an interview.

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