Counterfeit Tasmanian cherries seized in Hong Kong

Customs officers in Hong Kong have seized premium cherries claiming to be from a major Australian producer but which were actually counterfeits.

The 196 boxes claiming to be 43° South cherries – a brand owned by top Tasmanian producer Hansen Orchards – were seized from a fruit seller in the Yau Ma Tei area of Hong Kong. A 41-year-old woman has been arrested in connection with the incident.

There is a ready market for Australian cherries in China and Hong Kong, which reaches a peak in the build up to the Chinese New Year celebrations which this year fall on February 12.

Cherries are a sought-after gift during the holiday period amid strong demand for fresh produce from around the world, and Tasmanian cherries are viewed as a premium product.

Hansen sells its cherries mainly in 1kg and 2kg packs under the 43° South and Hansen Gold brands, with the larger size typically retailing for HK$400 to $HK600 (around $52 to $77) each.

The Yau Ma Tei vendor was selling them for between HK$300 and HK$450 ($39 to $58), according to the South China Morning Post, which said police believe the vendor substituted the cherries with cheaper fruit.

The fruit – weighing almost 400kg and worth more than HK$80,000 – has been sent to a government lab for analysis. In previous incidents the packaging was also found to be counterfeit, rather than reused genuine packaging, and this is also the case in this seizure.

According to an ABC report, Hansen is using unique identifiers on its packs, and alarm bells were raised when same serial number kept being scanned and registered on its system.

Two years ago the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) acknowledged the problem of counterfeiting of cherries, saying it was working with Chinese importers to try to tackle the trade as tariffs on fruit exports to China dropped.

Prior to that some sources were estimating that counterfeit Tasmanian cherries were outselling the genuine fruit by a factor of five to one.

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