July 01, 2013
Coles misled its customers into thinking certain fruits and vegetables were produced on Australian farms, when they were in fact from overseas, the ACCC has found.
The supermarket chain has paid six fines to the tune of $61,000 after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission investigators found imported fruits,
asparagus and almonds were displayed under price boards declaring ‘Helping Australia Grow’, which also included the triangular Australian Grown symbol, between March and May this year.
The fruits were from the United States and France, the ACCC revealed.
The misrepresentations occurred in five stores: one store in New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia and two stores in the Australian Capital Territory.
“While this does not appear to be a case of widespread or systemic conduct, ‘Helping Australia Grow’ is a significant national campaign driven hard by Coles to advertise its fresh produce,” said ACCC chairman Rod Sims.
“Consumers should be able to rely on the accuracy of claims about food, particularly when they are prepared to pay a premium for products made in Australia,” he said.
The ACCC conceded Coles had correctly identified countries of origin on stickers on the product, packaging or under the display bin. But it decided the small size of the stickers compared to the signage meant consumers could still be misled.
During the investigation, Coles informed the ACCC that the mislabelling arose when staff failed to update promotional images on price boards as stocks was moved around within each store.
The investigation was triggered by a customer complaint about the prominent signage hovering above imported navel oranges and kiwi fruit.
Coles maintains it did not break any labelling laws but paid the ACCC fines “as a matter of practical expediency to avoid a lengthy and costly legal action in defending our position,” a spokesman said.
Coles said it remained committed to fulfilling both the ‘Helping Australia Grow’ and ’96 per cent Australian Fresh Produce’ advertising claims.
“Misleading ‘country of origin’ claims can also have a significant impact on the competitive process and hurt the local economy,” the ACCC’s Mr Sims said.
“This is a lesson to all retailers that they need to take care when undertaking significant advertising campaigns to ensure consumers are not misled by those campaigns.”