Cereal Partners Australia (CPA), the manufacturer and distributor of Uncle Tobys brand oats, has paid penalties of $32,400 in relation to alleged false or misleading representations about the protein content of certain Uncle Tobys brand oats products. This followed the issue of three infringement notices by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
The packaging of Uncle Tobys ‘Quick Sachets’ oats contained the statement ‘Natural Source of Protein* Superfood’, and the packaging of Uncle Tobys ‘Traditional Oats’ contained the statement ‘Naturally Rich in Protein* Superfood’. The product packaging in each case contained the disclaimer “*when prepared with [1/2 or 2/3] cup of skim milk”, which appeared in fine print below the misleading statements.
These representations were also made in a television commercial promoting Uncle Tobys oats products, which contained a similar fine print disclaimer.
The ACCC alleged that by: combining the words ‘natural source’ / ‘naturally rich’, ‘protein’ and ‘superfood’ in the statements on the packaging and in a television commercial; and presenting the word ‘protein’ prominently in the centre of the front of the packet in a bright colour and in large font sizes,cCPA made false or misleading representations that the oats in these Uncle Tobys products contained a significant amount of protein, when this is not the case.
“Consumers should be able to purchase food products based on accurate health and composition claims. While the ACCC acknowledges that oats have many health benefits, on their own they are not high in protein, contrary to the representations made about these Uncle Tobys products,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.
“Business should be aware that a fine print disclaimer is insufficient to correct or qualify a prominent representation on packaging or in advertising that is false or misleading.”
Arnott’s has paid penalties totalling $51,000 following the issue of five infringement notices by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission relating to representations made by Arnott’s about its Shapes Light & Crispy product. Arnott’s also provided a court enforceable undertaking to the ACCC.
The ACCC said that Arnott’s represented on the packs of four varieties of Shapes Light & Crispy and a multipack between October 2014 and July 2015 that Shapes Light & Crispy contained “75% less saturated fat” than Arnott’s’ original Shapes biscuits, when in fact it contained approximately 60 per cent less saturated fat than original Shapes.
In making the “75% less saturated fat” representation, the ACCC noted that Arnott’s was actually comparing its Shapes Light & Crispy product not to original Shapes but to potato chips cooked in 100% palm oil. This was included in a fine print disclaimer at the bottom of the packs. However, even if potato chips had been an appropriate comparison for the saturated fat content of Shapes Light & Crispy, the ACCC notes that since only around 20 per cent of potato chips sold in Australia are cooked in palm oil, the representation may still have been misleading.
“Consumers should be able to trust the claims that businesses make to sell their products. Small print disclaimers cannot correct false or misleading representations which are made in a prominent way in advertising or on packaging,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.
“Businesses must ensure that any comparison claims they make are accurate and based on meaningful comparisons for consumers. This is particularly the case regarding claims that involve healthier eating.”
“Truth in advertising, particularly where misleading claims are made by large businesses, is a priority enforcement area for the ACCC,” Mr Sims said.
The ACCC issued the infringement notices to Arnott’s because it had reasonable grounds to believe that Arnott’s made a false or misleading representation about the composition of Shapes Light & Crispy, in breach of the Australian Consumer Law.
Arnott’s has provided a court enforceable undertaking to the ACCC that it will not engage in similar conduct for a period of three years. It will also publish a corrective notice on its website and in the nationally published Foodmagazine.