Aussie acai berry co. denies stealing rival’s story
Competition & Consumer Protection June 19, 2018 5:40 pm By Christine Caulfield | Melbourne

An Australian acai berry company has hit back at accusations it co-opted the pioneering narrative of US acai berry bowl maker Sambazon to promote a competing business.

In a defence filed in the Federal Court on Monday, Amazonia Pty Ltd and co-founders Dwayne Martens and Christopher Norden reject claims they stole Sambazon’s back story to falsely promote themselves as trailblazers sourcing their superfood from the heart of the Amazon.

Sambazon alleges it had a six-year agreement with Amazonia, from 2008 to 2014, for the Queensland-based company to distribute its Amazonian-sourced acai berry products. When the agreement ended, Amazonia’s Martens gave media interviews in which he allegedly spun a tale identical to Sambazon’s of a company purchasing acai berries directly from rainforest-dwelling families along the Amazon River in Brazil and promoting sustainable practices.

Amazonia admits it entered into an agreement with Sambazon for the supply of freeze dried acai berry powder, but never had a deal to distribute Sambazon’s product in Australia.

“From 2008 until about 2014, Amazonia purchased freeze dried acai and frozen acai packs in bulk from a company called Acai do Amapa Agro-Industrial Ltd which it rebranded and sold under the Amazonia brand,” the company said.

Amazonia also denied that the sustainable business practices and other features of Sambazon’s business are unique in the acai berry industry. The company says its own acai berry products were certified Fair Trade until August 2015

The company admitted sending emails accusing Sambazon of trying to bribe producers into refusing to supply to Amazonia, but denied that the emails were misleading or deceptive.

Amazonia also admitted sending a letter to its customers in December 2015, which Sambazon claimed tried to disparage Sambazon’s berries, “but only in response to customer queries arising from a letter from the Applicant dated 1 May 2015 which it distributed to some of its customers at a time unknown to the Respondents but at least until approximately late 2015″. The contents of that letter were not revealed in Amazonia’s defence.

Sambazon, which filed its suit against Amazonia on April 24, claims Amazonia purchases its acai berries from sales agents and brokers, and has breached the Australian Consumer Law by making misleading or deceptive representations in the media about its business.

A News Limited article in 2015 falsely claimed Martens went from a university dropout to the founder of a fair trade acai berry empire, the suit says.

The article claimed Amazonia “ventured into the heart of the Amazon to source a direct, sustainable supply of acai” and worked with “over 4000 families across 4000 acres of Amazon rainforest”.

A second article credited Amazonia and Martens, named along with Norden as a co-defendant in the suit, with travelling to the Amazon to “choose the most fair trade and sustainable methods of production for his business” and “founding the Fair Trade Project of Sambazon (The Amazonia Project)”.

“Amazonia does not have the business history of Sambazon,” Sambazon’s suit said. “The features of the Sambazon business model were not developed by Mr Martens and Amazonia but rather by [Sambazon founder] Ryan Black and Sambazon.”

Sambazon, sells acai berry smoothies, bowls and juices, and was founded in San Clemente, California in 2000 by Black and two others after a trip to Brazil, according to the suit.

The company told the court it has its own production facilities on the Amazon River in Brazil and buys its berries directly from local families. The company, has developed an “extensive and valuable” reputation in the Sambazon name, its organic products and its sustainable business practices, according to its statement of claim.

Sambazon told the court it sent a cease-and-desist letter to Amazonia in late March, but the Australian company ignored the demands.

Amazonia is represented by KCL Law. Sambazon is represented by K&L Gates.

The case is Sambazon Inc. v Amazonia Pty Ltd & Ors. 

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Christine Caulfield

Christine Caulfield has been a journalist for 18 years. She was most recently the Co-Managing Editor at US legal news publication Law360. Prior to that she worked as the County Court reporter for The Herald Sun. She is Co-Founder and Editor of Lawyerly.