An Australian supplier of Mediterranean and Turkish food products has been stung with a $30,600 fine for misrepresenting its “Victoria Honey” product, which is neither derived from bees nor made in Victoria.
The penalty is the most recent result of a string of actions taken by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission over false or misleading products, including those recently brought against Maggie Beer’s daughter.
The ACCC found Melbourne-based distributor Basfoods to have made misrepresentations on its product labelling and its website that suggested its “Victoria Honey” was produced by honey bees, when it was mainly comprised of sugars from plants including corn and sugar cane.
The watchdog also considered by naming and labelling its product “Victoria Honey”, Basfoods had represented the product as originating from Victoria, Australia when in fact it was a product of Turkey.
The product was supplied to independent supermarkets, speciality retailers, online stores, delis, restaurants and cafes across Australia, as well as through Basfood’s retail stores and via its website.
Three infringement notices were issued to Basfoods before the ACCC fined the company.
In response, Basfoods has provided an enforceable undertaking to the ACCC in which it has admitted its conduct contravened Australian Consumer Law and has undertaken to only sell a product as “honey” if it is entirely produced by honey bees.
The company also agreed to regularly test its products, including its honey, and publish a range of corrective notices.
“It is difficult for consumers to test claims by traders that a certain product is actually ‘honey’ or is from a certain place of origin,” ACCC chairman Rod Sims said in a statement.
“False claims of this kind not only mislead consumers but can also disadvantage competing honey suppliers, particularly those who source honey locally within Australia,” he said.
Sims said the ACCC is putting honey suppliers on notice as it has concerns with other honey suppliers and products, which it may pursue similar action against.
Sally Scott, partner at Hall & Wilcox, told SmartCompany when considering if a label or advertisement is misleading, many businesses just consider whether the actual words used are misleading, such as a specific claim to have been ‘Made in Australia’.
“However, when assessing misleading conduct, the ACCC looks at more than just the actual words used,” says Scott. “It looks at the overall impression that is conveyed to consumers.”
The ACCC considers any representations that are implied by words or pictures, as well as what knowledge, expectations and experience consumers already have, says Scott.
“This means that when businesses are considering labels and advertising, they need to turn their mind to the overall impression that consumers may have. They then need to consider whether the overall impression is likely to be misleading,” says Scott.
Scott says in this case, it is fair to assume a product labelled ‘Victoria Honey’ would be made in Victoria and mainly or entirely comprised of honey made from bees.
“That is not because the label specifically says that it is ‘Made in Victoria’ or that it contains honey made from bees,” says Scott. “It is because of the overall impression conveyed to consumers as a result of implications and consumers’ broader knowledge, expectations and experience.”
Basfoods was contacted for comment but SmartCompany did not receive a response prior to publication.