Food integrity – an honest brand is worth protecting

Article  \  6 Jul 2017

Clean, green, pure, natural, honest, real… these are words that are regularly used throughout the world to describe New Zealand. They all have a central concept that binds them: integrity. Loosely defined as “a quality of being honest and having strong moral principles”, integrity is a word that is used in many forums.

What does ‘integrity’ mean to the food industry? To the producer? The food industry is accustomed to thinking about integrity in relation to quality controls. But the concept is just as important to your brand and consumer perception of your products.

New Zealand has long traded on its clean, green image. There’s a reason Tourism New Zealand uses the slogan 100% Pure New Zealand. Even our colloquially accepted ‘national symbol’ of a fern references that clean and natural image. This ‘New Zealand brand’ helps New Zealand traders (and especially those in the food industry) to build trust with consumers in new markets.

NZ FernMark STACKED copy

All of this lends itself to a need to secure the integrity not only of our product’s quality, but of the intellectual property that protects it. There is little point producing a high quality infant milk if consumers don’t trust your brand. The New Zealand brand of healthy and quality products provides food industry traders a unique opportunity in the development of their own brands.

How New Zealand brand integrity helps in China

A good example of the importance of the ‘New Zealand brand’, and how it can help you, is the Chinese market.

In New Zealand, the brands we know and love are the ones we are loyal to. The same is true for Chinese consumers. Probably even more so, since a lot of trust in the Chinese market of locally (China) produced products has been lost over the past 10 years (as referenced below).

Quality food products, and particularly quality infant food products are important to the Chinese buyer. As a result of the one-child-policy, parents in China place great importance on the quality and healthiness of food bought for children.

In the wake of the 2008 melamine scandal in China, New Zealand became the first developed country to enter into a free trade agreement with China. According to the MFAT website, since the agreement was signed, goods exports from New Zealand to China have quadrupled. The food industry forms an integral part of that export industry. And demand for New Zealand food products rose in the wake of the melamine scandal.

The China market is very competitive. China is one of the world’s biggest economies, and securing a niche within that market is valuable for companies throughout the world. So being able to give yourself an edge there is vital.

How to build and protect a brand of integrity

The image of New Zealand being a clean, green, and pure country gives New Zealand food exporters an instantaneous advantage. Simply by including ‘made in New Zealand’ your product becomes more desirable. But there are more steps you can (and should) take to ensure your brand remains so.

‘Brand’ is a term used in the intellectual property industry to refer to that core element of what makes your company what it is. The intangible things beyond the bricks and mortar. Your company name, the names you give your products, how consumers see you, how you market to them. Your ‘brand’ is more than just your trade marks. It is what makes consumers love you.

The intellectual property you may own ranges from trade marks, copyright and designs, to patents, plant variety rights and trade secrets. Each part of your intellectual property portfolio can help protect a different element of your brand’s integrity. In essence, this can be seen as a “bundle” of intellectual property rights, each serving a different yet complementary purpose.

A strong trade mark gives you a name that consumers recognise you by. With the prevalence of trade mark squatters in China, ensuring you are swift and decisive in gaining trade mark protection can be paramount. The last thing you want is to launch your new product in China and then receive a letter saying your use is an infringement of a Chinese trade mark registration.

Copyright protection can be a powerful tool for the artistic elements of your brand. It can extend from your logo, to your packaging design.

Beyond these obvious brand protection measures, it’s worth thinking about the other intellectual property you may have. If you’ve engineered a new plant variety, there may be protection you can get to stop others using that variety. There may be patentable material in a new method of manufacturing your food product. Your recipes, or methods of production, may be best protected by keeping them trade secrets.

The first step is to know what your brand means to you – what is the message you want to send your Chinese consumers, and what do you want them to feel when they think about your product?

The second step is to take the time to devise an intellectual property strategy for China. It’s a country where acting tomorrow to protect your brand can be too late, so act today.

Examples of successful New Zealand brands trading in China: