Needle scare unlikely to affect New Zealand strawberry market

The Australian strawberry needle contamination scare will have no major impact on the strawberry market in New Zealand, growers say.

"This unfortunate event is confined to the circumstances in Australia," says Strawberry Growers NZ executive manager Michael Ahern.

Strawberries spiked with needles have been discovered in every Australian state except Western Australia over the past week. Australian police are calling it an act of sabotage and say it has affected six different brands.

New Zealand supermarket companies Foodstuffs and Countdown are halting distribution of Australian strawberries in the wake of the scare.

Mr Ahern says in the next fortnight most New Zealand growers will start production for the beginning of the season and new stock will be hitting shelves shortly, so there won't be a noticeable shortage.

But he says the needle scare is not likely to result in a windfall for New Zealand strawberry exporters.

About ten percent of strawberries are grown for export and mostly to South East Asia, and Mr Ahern did not expect that figure to change as a result of the upset in the Australian strawberry market.

A Foodstuffs spokesperson said while there is no product in Foodstuffs stores affected by the recall in Australia, it would be halting distribution "for added reassurance".

"Customer safety is our number one priority," the spokesperson said.

Foodstuffs owns New World, Pak 'n Save and Four Square.

Countdown has also stopped ordering Australian strawberries and says it will stock New Zealand-grown strawberries from next week.

Countdown head of produce Steve Sexton said: "Customer safety is our first priority.  None of the strawberries on our shelves come from the areas affected by this issue in Australia, however as an extra precaution Countdown is not importing any further strawberries from Australia."

Six brands have been pulled from supermarket shelves in Australia as more people uncover the sharp objects in their fruit.

Officials in Australia are offering a $110,000 award to catch the culprit.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has confirmed that none of the strawberries implicated in the contamination to date have been imported to New Zealand.