The former Victorian premier, Jeff Kennett, played an integral role in the latest round of bad headlines for Coles, with the supermarket giant accused of misleading and deceptive conduct.
Last year, Kennett got tongues wagging when he started enquiring about the origins of his bread and muffins, sending the baked goods to the ACCC and sharing his thoughts with talkback radio listeners, the SMH reports.
The consumer watchdog hadn’t received any complaints about Coles’ bread until then, but with Kennett’s profile and growing interest in the his cause, was forced to dig deeper.
Yesterday, the ACCC issued a statement announcing that it had launched legal action against the supermarket, which it accused of engaging in deceptive and misleading conduct, specifically in regards to ‘Baked Today, Sold Today’ and ‘Freshly Baked In-Store’ claims on various ‘Cuisine Royale’ and ‘Coles Bakery’ branded bread products.
The ACCC says the marketing of these products is misleading as the bread is partially baked and frozen off-site, transported to Coles stores and ‘finished’ in-store.
According to SMH, court documents have shown that the bakery products were either made in Ireland or had been initially baked in different locations in Australia, some of which were frozen, reheated and then sold as “freshly-baked in-store.”
ACCC chairman Rod Sims said, "There are two important issues at stake. First, consumers must be able to make informed purchasing decisions. Bread is an important grocery basket staple and customers need to be confident in claims made about food they buy.
"We believe consumers are likely to have been misled by Coles that the entire baking process, including preparation, occurred in-store, when in fact the bakery products were prepared and partially baked off site, frozen, transported and then ‘finished’ in store. Indeed, the Cuisine Royale products were partially baked overseas.
"Second and just as important, is the detrimental impact on the businesses of competitors. Misleading credence claims can undermine the level playing field and disadvantage other suppliers. In this case those suppliers are the smaller, often franchised bakeries that compete with Coles," Sims said.
Sims has also said that a Queensland consumer complained to the Queensland fair trading office when they found their “baked today” bread was actually frozen in the middle.
The action brought against it could see Coles hit with fines of up to $1.1 million per offence.
In a statement issued by Coles, the supermarket expressed its intention to "vigorously defend the action brought against it by the ACCC.
"Coles has only just become aware of the ACCC legal action and will fully examine the ACCC statement before making any further comment," the statement reads.