The Levin-based Potter Brothers produce a range of ‘reimagined’ New Zealand confectionery. But according to some customers, they’re ‘basically just buying lollies and covering them in chocolate’. Stewart Sowman-Lund reports.
An independent confectionery company that proudly proclaims to “believe in the importance of handcrafted quality” has been accused of using mass-produced products. And, according to our consumer watchdog, such action could be a breach of the Fair Trading Act.
Potter Brothers is a boutique confectionery company in Levin, started in 2017 by brothers Benjamin and Joseph Potter, that describes itself as being inspired by a family love of great chocolate. “After 25 years of perfecting the age-old family recipe, we are proud to bring you an outstanding selection of reimagined Kiwi classics covered in our creamy chocolate!” the company’s website reads. “We operate from a factory we built ourselves in Levin… We aim to cater to the tastes of your childhood, and have created a range that ensures there is something for everyone.”
In its online shop, a range of self-manufactured products are for sale, including “pineapple chews”, a variant of the classic pineapple lump, along with peanut clusters, chocolate-covered red licorice and dipped chocolate jellies. You can also find many of their products in chains like Farro, Fresh Choice, Countdown and New World.
Potter Brothers pineapple chews retail for $5.99 at most stockists, about twice the price of other varieties, giving the impression of an upmarket alternative to the classic Kiwi confectionary.
But videos and photos shared by customers online suggest that there may be more than just similarities between Potter Brothers products and what has inspired them. They’ve prompted negative online reviews and social media posts from concerned customers dating back at least two years.
In a series of Instagram posts from back in 2021, former Great Kiwi Bake-Off finalist Courtnay Adele claims to have uncovered a mystery beneath the chocolate casing of Potter Brothers’ pineapple chews. The videos show Adele breaking away the milk chocolate exterior to reveal the familiar texture of what looks like a regular pineapple lump.
“I have an issue with these pineapple pieces,” she narrates, before taking out a few “for analysis”.
The mystery begins. “Can you see that? How there’s like a layer of chocolate over another layer of chocolate?”
And then: “No fucking way. There cannot be a normal pineapple lump and then this company has just covered it with their own chocolate.”
The similarities are remarkable. The uncovered pineapple lump even shares a similar texture – Adele describes it as “hatched” – to the-mass produced variety that’s been a staple of the confectionery aisle for decades, most notably produced by Pascall.
Adele’s not alone in her concerns. A Reddit user this week said they purchased the Potter Brothers pineapple chews in Queenstown recently and were left convinced they were just “re-dipped pineapple lumps”. Similarly, on Google, a handful of one star reviews dating back two years make identical claims about the quality of the Potter Brothers products. “The pineapple pieces are just another brand’s pineapple lumps that this company has covered in their own chocolate. Honestly I want a refund,” one person said.
The company still maintains a 4.4 star rating – with many praising the taste and quality of the products. It also clearly impressed a panel of taste testers who placed the Potter Brothers pineapple chews at the top of a recent Spinoff ranking of all pineapple lumps – though one detractor did comment, “It was just chocolate. We are here to rate Pineapple Lumps, not chocolate.”
Speaking to The Spinoff, Adele said her investigation has picked up traction again this week after she re-shared her original Instagram videos on TikTok. She’s less concerned about the possibility that Potter Brothers have re-dipped commercial pineapple lumps and more with what she sees as a lack of transparency in the company’s branding. For example, the pineapple chew packaging states that the products are “hand made” in New Zealand.
“They are basically just buying lollies and covering them in chocolate, which I have no issue with – it’s the fact that they then market them as hand made, hand crafted in New Zealand [with] this 25-year-old recipe. It’s obviously all marketing bullshit and that’s the thing that annoys me,” Adele alleged.
Requests to Potter Brothers for comment from The Spinoff have gone unanswered, with text messages to a company spokesperson read but not replied to.
If people opt to buy handmade products, Adele said, they should be getting exactly what’s been advertised – especially if they’re paying a premium. “If someone is a boutique chocolatier trying to make pineapple lumps, then they should be getting recognition… not someone who is just covering mass produced products.”
Adele made these comments after speaking directly with a Potter Brothers representative back in 2021. Messages between Adele and the official Potter Brothers facebook account reveal a tense interaction whereby Adele asks bluntly whether the company is repurposing mass-produced lollies under its own brand and selling them as “hand made”.
The company did not reject the claims, nor did it admit to the charge. Instead, things turned “aggressive”, said Adele, with the two engaging in a heated debate over the definition of “hand made”.
“Do you relentlessly question colonel sanders for his herbs and spices [sic],” the Potter Brothers spokesperson wrote. “Maybe make sure they aren’t from some per [sic] made herb mix from the shop.”
In another message, they asked: “If I hypothetically melted down [Whittaker’s] peanut Slabs to make my peanut clusters would they no longer be hand made in your opinion?” (Adele replied: “absolutely not”.)
The spokesperson also questioned whether their hand made claim meant that “the pineapple filling would need to be made by hand without machinery… or just made in house and not by another company”.
Adele also took issue with the claim that Potter Brothers were using an old family recipe for their chocolate. “I have a relatively good understanding around chocolate and baking… so it didn’t take me long to be like ‘you haven’t got the basis of what is needed to be proper chocolate’,” she said. “And even when you look on their website, you can see they’re pouring chocolate buttons into a melting machine. The whole thing is very odd to me.”
It’s not unusual for food manufacturers to use base products produced by other companies. Eta, for example, produces its own range of chips while also supplying them for smaller local brands like Snackachangi. However, this is a disclosed commercial relationship. At time of writing, there are no such disclosures on the Potter Brothers website. The Spinoff approached both Pascall and Rainbow Confectionery but received no response at the time of publication.
Consumer NZ, however, said there was a potential law breach should Potter Brothers indeed be using other company’s products. “Any advertising and marketing material on food packages must comply with the Fair Trading Act and the Food Act. If something is labelled as ‘hand made’ it must be made by hand,” a spokesperson said. “In our view, altering a mass-produced product by hand does not turn the product into a ‘hand made’ one and it’s likely the Fair Trading Act has been breached.”
Other companies have in the past been given a slap on the wrist for tampering with products. In 2018, the Commerce Commission ruled that clothing brand WORLD was wrong to be using “Fabrique en Nouvelle Zelande” (made in New Zealand) labels on garments that were imported from overseas and assembled in New Zealand.
No complaints about Potter Brothers have so far been laid with Consumer. The Commerce Commission has been approached for comment.