Coles fined $61,000 for country of origin claims

Coles has paid six infringement notices totalling $61,200 for allegedly misleading representations about the country of origin of fresh produce in five stores.

The stores are located across Queensland, NSW, Western Australia and the ACT and the infringement notices refer to claims made between March 2013 and May 2013.

The fines follow an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission after a complaint was made that Coles had displayed imported navel oranges and kiwi fruit under a board which read 'Helping Australia Grow' and accompanied by the Australian Grown symbol.

The ACCC also discovered the same signage at a number of Coles stores promoting the sale of imported asparagus and almonds.

While the overseas country of origin was correctly identified either by stickers on the produce, on its packaging or under the display bin, the ACCC says the signage gave consumers the impression the produce was Australian grown.

"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. Misleading country of origin claims can also have a significant impact on the competitive process and hurt the local economy," ACCC chairman, Rod Sims, said.

"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. 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."

According to Coles, the misrepresentation of imported produce as Australian grown was unintentional – the result of stock being relocated within stores but not the corresponding promotional imagery.

This isn't the only instance which has seen the supermarket giant fall under the gaze of the ACCC.

Just last month the competition regulator launched legal proceedings against Coles for engaging in false, misleading and deceptive conduct in the supply of bread that was particually baked and frozen off-site, then transported to Coles stores, 'finished' in-store and marketed as 'Baked Today, Sold Today' or 'Freshly Baked In-Store'.

The ACCC is also investigating the conduct of both Coles and Woolworths in regards to their dealings with suppliers, amid accusations both supermarket chains use bullying tactics to force prices down.



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