A wine brand co-directed by former All Black Neemia Tialata has been selling hand sanitiser from an Otaki manufacturer rebranded at more than three times the price of the original product.

On March 23rd, as the country went into level three lockdown, Ginny Hickman went into Brooklyn’s Unichem pharmacy to purchase some hand sanitiser. The product had been in high demand and hard to find. Ms Hickman is 72 years old and on medication for her Rheumatoid arthritis that compromises her immune system.

“I was really relieved to find that they had some large bottles of hand sanitiser in the pharmacy. I hadn’t seen the brand before, but the staff member described it as a premium brand,” she said.

The one litre sized bottle of Deux Chevaux hand sanitiser was priced at $69.99 per bottle. Ginny bought three. One for herself, one for a family member, who she doubted could afford the product at that price, and one for her friend who was ill with cancer and highly anxious about COVID-19 infection as news of the pandemic worsened every day.

“I knew it was expensive, but it was like hens’ teeth at the time and, if it was a premium brand, then I figured it was probably more costly to start with.”

Peeling off the rearward facing label on the bottle revealed the branding and product information of Lotus brand hand sanitiser made by Otaki based company Dowco Associates.

New World Wellington City has been selling the Lotus branded product on special for $18.99. The sanitiser, available from Moore Wilson’s for $19.96 per litre has been offered to their ‘gold card’ members for $17.50. A Moore Wilsons representative confirmed that, while the product had been out of stock in the week leading up to level four lockdown, the store had been resupplied during the second week of lockdown.

The Fair-trading act 1986 prohibits conduct that is liable to mislead the public as to the nature, manufacturing process, characteristics, purpose or quantity of goods.

Jessica Wilson of Consumer NZ confirmed that it was unlikely that the rebranding and mark-up of the original Dowco Associates product breached the act. She said that concern over the Deux Chevaux labelled product was more likely to be one of ethics.

Deux Chevaux is more commonly known as the wine brand set up by former All Black Neemia Tialata after his eight years spent playing rugby in the south of France. His wife, Sally Tialata works as a Pharmacist at Brooklyn Unichem. The brand has been unresponsive to requests for comment and, when approached, Sally also declined to comment.

Christine Downer said that Dowco Associates had been facing extremely high demand for their sanitiser and cleaning products.

“It’s been like a warzone, We have had to turn our phones off for almost two months,” she said.

The prices of the raw ingredients of hand sanitiser had increased and while Dowco Associates did manufacture hand sanitiser for other brands, whose pricing was of their own discretion, Deux Chevaux was not one of these companies.

“It’s not how we operate. We have always tried to keep our prices in the real world. We have no commercial relationship with Deux Chevaux,” she said.

At the time of writing, New Zealand’s COVID-19 response has been broadly successful with the country being clear of new cases for the last 16 days. As of the first week of June, Brooklyn’s Unichem Pharmacy continued to sell Deux Chevaux hand sanitiser at a reduced the price of $49.90 per litre.