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Cat fight over feline food claims

13:00 Thu Jul 10 2014
AAP
A food fight over cat food has gone to court, with one company saying the other is making misleading statements about protein levels on its packaging.
A food fight over cat food has gone to court, with one company saying the other is making misleading statements about protein levels on its packaging. (Getty)

The claws are out in a cat fight over "smoke and mirrors" claims on feline food packaging.

Nestle New Zealand - which sells the Purina cat food brand - has taken its competitor Mars New Zealand to court over statements on the company's Whiskas products.

The dry cat food claims to have the highest level of protein, in large purple print across its packet.

But in the small print, the product says it has the highest level of protein based on an average of the Whiskas dry range compared with leading dry cat food brands in supermarkets.

Nestle says the claim is either misleading or meaningless, and wants an interim injunction stopping Mars from making that claim.

Eighty-three per cent of product sales in the Whiskas range are of low-protein products - but they still carried the banner saying "highest level of protein", Nestle says.

Nestle's lawyer Laura O'Gorman told the High Court at Auckland on Thursday the statement used a "smoke and mirrors" effect.

It wasn't enough for the protein level to be above average - it had to have a higher level of protein than all other products on the market for the claim to be true, she said.

Consumers who did notice the claim would either assume it was meaningful and a good reason to choose the product for their cat, or they would read the finer print and realise it was totally meaningless and unhelpful, Ms O'Gorman said.

But Mars' lawyer Tracey Walker said the fine print was clear, unambiguous and didn't use technical jargon.

"With the greatest respect, the only smoke and mirrors here is that description, `smoke and mirrors'," Ms Walker said.

She said the statement was literally true and Nestle had produced no evidence of any customers being confused.

Evidence showed customers bought products across the Whiskas range, meaning a statement about the average protein content across the range was relevant, she said.

Justice Pamela Andrews is expected to reserve her decision.

Nestle is one of the world's biggest companies, while Mars had about twice the revenue of Fonterra last financial year.