Heinz Australia is being taken to court by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission over claims it made misleading representations on its ‘Shredz’ product for toddlers.
The consumer watchdog will argue Heinz made false and misleading representations and its conduct was “liable to mislead the public” and therefore in contravention of the Australian Consumer Law.
Shredz are ‘ropes’ of mashed up fruit and vegetables, aimed at toddlers and young children. The product comes in three flavours, and has been in supermarkets since 2013.
Heinz’s packaging features the statement “99% fruit and veg”, and outlines that “dedicated nutritionists” used to create the product.
The ACCC claims the packaging misleads customers into believing the Shredz products are equally as healthy as fruit and vegetables.
“Heinz is marketing these products as healthy options for young children when they are not,” said ACCC chairman Rod Sims in a statement.
“These products contain over 60 per cent sugar, which is significantly higher than that of natural fruit and vegetables – for example, an apple contains approximately 10 per cent sugar.”
In photos accompanying its statement, the ACCC showed the nutritional information printed on the product’s packaging, including 68.7 grams of sugar per hundred grams.
The products ingredients are almost entirely fruit and vegetable pastes and concentrates.
The commission also alleges toddlers who are given the product regularly will develop a taste and preference for sweet foods, rather than nutritious food like real fruit and vegetables.
This is opposite to what the Shredz packaging claims, stating: “Our range of snacks and meals encourages your toddler to independently discover the delicious taste of nutritious food.”
Melissa Monks, special counsel at King & Wood Mallesons, told SmartCompany if the ACCC’s case is successful, it would have “significant ramifications for the marketing of so called ‘health halo’ foods”.
The term ‘health halo’ refers to brands or foods that are generally perceived as healthy option, where in reality they are not.
“It’s an interesting argument for the ACCC to make because it relies heavily on the overall impression of the packaging,” Monks says.
“Even if there may be some literally true statements such as the percentage of fruit and vegetables (including as disclosed on the nutrition information panel), when considered as a whole and in totality the ACCC’s view is that the impression given is misleading.”
For companies in the business of food products and packaging, Monks says the ACCC’s action is a “timely reminder”.
“The action is a timely reminder to not only food businesses but to all business to ensure that they can substantiate each literal claim they make on packaging or in advertising but to also consider the overall impression these make and ensure they too are accurate,” says Monks.
“The ACCC seems to be scrutinising healthy, natural and equivalent credence claims by large corporates, particularly products are marketed to children, so care should be taken.”
The ACCC is seeking declarations, injunctions, pecuniary penalties, corrective notices and costs.
SmartCompany contacted Heinz but did not receive a response prior to publication.