24 Jul 2019

Shiitake mushroom complaint reconsidered by Commerce Commission

2:55 pm on 24 July 2019

A complaint that some shiitake mushrooms being sold as New Zealand grown were actually imported from China is being reconsidered by the Commerce Commission.

Hillcroft Mushrooms co-owner Bruce Mackinnon with some of his product.

Hillcroft Mushrooms co-owner Bruce Mackinnon with some of his product. Photo: Supplied / Bruce Mackinnon

Last month, Hawke's Bay shiitake grower Bruce Mackinnon warned some exotic mushrooms being sold in supermarkets and high-end restaurants as "New Zealand grown" are actually being imported from China.

This included all shiitake grown by the country's largest mushroom producer Meadow Mushrooms, which imported growing logs already innoculated with shiitake spawn from China. The mushrooms, which were essentially the fruit of the fungi, were harvested a few weeks after arrival and sold in supermarkets as "Mushrooms of New Zealand."

Other smaller growers also grew and sold shiitake, and other exotic fungi like Enoki and Oyster mushrooms, in this way.

At the time the Commerce Commission said it was "aware of the issue" but was not investigating.

But it now said it was taking another look at the issue.

"We are still in the assessment stage of this complaint," a Commerce Commission spokeperson said, with a decision on whether it would now carry out a full investigation being made within the next few weeks.

Mr Mackinnon, who laid the original complaint last year, said was "very pleased" the commission was taking another look because consumers were being mislead.

"I hope they can assess the situation correctly and realise that product from New Zealand has to be grown in New Zealand.

"Everybody I've spoken to about it, once they're aware of the growing process, can't believe these companies have managed to get away with it," Mr Mackinnon said.

He had got a lot of feedback about the issue since RNZ reported on the issue, including from top restaurateurs, he said.

"Sid [Sahrawat], at the French Cafe and Cassia, has since switched to buying their shiitake from Hillcroft. Also, a lot of Hawke's Bay restaurateurs have stuck with us because they want New Zealand-grown," Mr Mackinnon said.

In June, the Commerce Commission said there were no "hard and fast rules" to determine whether a product was New Zealand made or grown.

"In general what the commission would consider in a situation like this is what a consumer would understand about a phrase such as 'New Zealand Grown'. The test of whether a claim breaches the Fair Trading Act is based on whether the claim is likely to be misleading to New Zealand consumers, " a spokesperson said at the time.