Online food retailer EasyMeals has been forced to publish a corrective notice admitting to breaches of the Australian Consumer Law on its website, following an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
EasyMeals, which was established in 2011, sells pre-made meals, including curries, pastas, soups and desserts.
The ACCC said today it began investigating the business after it receiving a complaint from Anglicare Northern Territory on behalf of a migrant who had recently arrived in Australia and was not fluent in English.
This person had received telemarketing calls from EasyMeals and was told EasyMeal products would be suitable for their diabetes.
The ACCC found EasyMeals had represented that its meals were suitable for all people with diabetes, when the suitability of the meals depended on the individual consumer, their diet and the severity of their medical condition.
EasyMeals was also found to have told consumers that they could get a free meal by providing the company with their contact information, when in fact the free meal was only available to consumers who had already purchased a meal from the company.
The business also did not provide the appropriate information to consumers who received unsolicited telemarketing calls from EasyMeals.
EasyMeals has admitted these matters amounted to breaches of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) and has subsequently entered into a court enforceable undertaking with the ACCC.
The undertaking prevents the company from engaging in similar conduct for three years, and requires EasyMeals to implement an ACL compliance program and publish a corrective notice on its website for 60 days.
Following the ACCC investigation, EasyMeals has refunded the consumer who made the complaint, undertaken an internal investigation and agreed to changes its practices to ensure it complies with the ACL in the future.
The business has cooperated with the ACCC throughout the investigation.
ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said in a statement this morning that food suppliers must take extra care to “ensure that they do not misrepresent the suitability of their products for consumers with particular health conditions, such as diabetes or allergies”.
“False or misleading representations of this type can have serious consequences for consumers with these conditions who rely on the representations,” she said.
Focus on food
The investigation of EasyMeals follows a move by the ACCC in June to initiate legal action against Heinz Australia over claims it made misleading representations about its ‘Shredz’ products and their suitability for children.
Narissa Corrigan, principal at Ampersand Legal, told SmartCompany that while there are not specific provisions in the ACL that relate to food products, the ACCC indicated earlier this year that truth in advertising and food health claims are among its priorities.
“It’s about exercising some common sense and giving consumers a clear and full picture of what your product or service is about,” Corrigan says when it comes to businesses making representations about food products.
“I always advise my food clients to exercise an extra level of caution as the risk of personal injury is a lot higher.
“It’s best to err on the side of over-informing rather than under-informing.”
And apart from the legal consequences. Corrigan says businesses should be aiming to help their customers make an informed buying decision.
“You should be aiming to do that every single day,” she says.
SmartCompany contacted EasyMeals but did not receive a response prior to publication.