‘Handmade’ chocolate company accused of repurposing mass-produced lollipops

The Levin based Potter Brothers produce a range of reinvented New Zealand confectionery. But according to some customers, they “basically just buy lollipops and cover them with chocolate.” Stewart Sowman-Lund reports.

AAn independent candy company that proudly proclaims it “believes in the importance of artisan quality” has been accused of using mass-produced goods. And according to our Consumer Protection Agency, such action could breach the Fair Trading Act.

Potter Brothers is a Levin-based boutique confectionery company founded in 2017 by brothers Benjamin and Joseph Potter, who describe themselves as inspired by a family love of great chocolate. “After 25 years of perfecting the age-old family recipe, we’re proud to bring you a superb selection of revisited kiwifruit classics, coated in our creamy chocolate!” the company’s website reads. “We operate out of a factory we built ourselves in Levin… We aim to cater to your childhood tastes and have created a range to ensure there is something for everyone.”

His online store sells a variety of homemade products, including “pineapple chewy,” a twist on the classic pineapple nugget, as well as peanut clusters, chocolate-covered red liquorice, and chocolate jelly. You can also find many of their products in chains like Farro, Fresh Choice, Countdown and New World.

Potter Brothers pineapple chewy candies retail for $5.99 at most retailers, about double the price of other varieties, and make the impression of an upscale alternative to classic kiwi candies.

But videos and photos shared online by customers suggest there may be more than similarities between Potter Brothers’ products and what inspired them. They have led to negative online reviews and social media posts from concerned customers going back at least two years.

In a series of 2020 Instagram posts, former Great Kiwi Bake-Off finalist Courtnay Adele claims to have uncovered a secret beneath the chocolate casing of the Potter Brothers’ pineapple chews. The videos show Adele breaking away the exterior of the milk chocolate to reveal the familiar texture of a regular pineapple chunk.

“I have a problem with these pineapple chunks,” she says, before pulling out a few “for analysis.”

The mystery begins. “Can you see that? How is there such a thing as a layer of chocolate on top of another layer of chocolate?”

And then: “No way. There can’t be a normal lump of pineapple and then this company just covered it in their own chocolate.”

A Potter Brothers pineapple chew item and what was found inside (Instagram: Courtnay Adele)

The similarities are striking. The uncovered lump of pineapple even has a similar texture — Adele describes it as “hatched” — to the mass-produced variety that has been a staple of confectionery shelves for decades, particularly from Pascall.

Adele is not alone in her concerns. A Reddit user said this week They recently bought the Potter Brothers’ pineapple chewy in Queenstown and were convinced it was just “re-dipped chunks of pineapple”. Similarly, on Google, a handful of one-star reviews dating back two years make identical claims about the quality of Potter Brothers products. “The pineapple chunks are just another brand’s pineapple chunks that this company covered in their own chocolate. Honestly, I want a refund,” one person said.

The company still holds a 4.4-star rating – with many praising the taste and quality of the products. It also impressed a panel of taste testers, who put the Potter Brothers’ pineapple chewy candies at the top of a recent spinoff Ranking of all pineapple pieces – although one reviewer commented: “It was just chocolate. We’re here to judge pineapple chunks, not chocolate.”

Some negative Google reviews for Potter Brothers

Speaking to The Spinoff, Adele said her investigation picked up steam again this week after re-sharing her original Instagram videos on TikTok. She is less concerned about the possibility that Potter Brothers has re-dipped commercial pineapple pieces and more about what she sees as a lack of transparency in the company’s branding. For example, the packaging of the pineapple chewy sweets states that the products are “handmade” in New Zealand.

“They basically just buy lollipops and cover them in chocolate, which I have no problem with – it’s the fact that they then market them as handmade, handmade in New Zealand [with] this 25 year old recipe. This is obviously all marketing bullshit and that’s what annoys me,” Adele claimed.

Requests to Potter Brothers for comment from The Spinoff went unanswered, and text messages to a company spokesman were read but unanswered.

If people decide to buy handmade products, Adele said they should get exactly what’s advertised — especially if they’re paying a premium. “If someone’s a boutique chocolatier trying to make pineapple chunks, then they should get credit…not someone just reporting on mass-produced items.”

Adele made the comments after speaking directly to a Potter Brothers representative in 2021. MMessages between Adele and the Potter Brothers’ official Facebook account reveal a tense interaction, with Adele bluntly asking if the company repurposes mass-produced lollipops under its own brand and sells them as ‘handmade’.

The company neither denied the claims nor admitted to the charges. Instead, things got “aggressive,” Adele said, and the pair engaged in a heated debate over the definition of “handmade.”

“Ask Colonel Sanders adamantly about his herbs and spices [sic]’ wrote the rep for the Potter Brothers. “Maybe make sure they aren’t anyone’s [sic] homemade herb mix from the store.”

In another message, they asked: “If I melt hypothetically [Whittaker’s] Peanut sheets for my peanut clusters, do you think they wouldn’t be made by hand anymore?” (Adele replied: “No way”.)

The spokesperson also questioned whether their hand-made claim meant that “the pineapple filling would have to be made by hand with no machinery…or just made in-house and not by another company.”

Adele also disputed the claim that the Potter brothers used an old family recipe for their chocolate. “I have a relatively good understanding of chocolate and baking…so it didn’t take long for me to say, ‘You don’t have the foundation of what proper chocolate needs to be,'” she said. “And even if you look at their website, you can see they’re pouring chocolate candies into a melting machine. The whole thing strikes me as very strange.”

A photo of melted chocolate from the Potter Brothers website.

It is not uncommon for food manufacturers to use basic products from other companies. Eta, for example, produces its own range of crisps and also supplies them to smaller local brands like Snackachangi. However, this is a disclosed business relationship. At the time of writing, there are no such disclosures on the Potter Brothers’ website. The Spinoff reached out to both Pascall and Rainbow Confectionery, but received no response at the time of publication.

However, Consumer NZ said there was a potential breach of the law if Potter Brothers were to actually use other companies’ products. “Any advertising and marketing material on food packaging must comply with the Fair Trade Act and the Food Act. If something is labeled as ‘handmade’, it must be made by hand,” a spokesman said. “In our view, manually altering a mass-produced product does not make the product ‘handmade’ and it is likely that the Fair Trading Act has been breached.”

Other companies have received a slap in the hand for tampering with products in the past. 2018, decided by the trade commission that clothing brand WORLD wrongly used “Fabrique en Nouvelle Zelande” (made in New Zealand) labels on garments imported from overseas and assembled in New Zealand.

To date, no complaints about Potter Brothers have been filed with Consumer. The Trade Commission has been asked for comment.

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