Oils ain’t oils: International vegetable oil maker pays $20,000 infringement notice after ACCC action

The Australian marketing arm of a vegetable oil manufacturer has paid two infringement notices totalling more than $20,000 for misleading labelling on its products.

Following action by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, MOI International (Australia) paid $20,400 after allegedly misleading consumers to think its ‘Mediterranean Blend’ olive oil was of premium quality.

The company’s product was labelled “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” and “100% Olive Oil” and the ACCC alleges this inaccurately represented the product as predominately composed of extra virgin olive oil.

Far from being 100% olive oil, the fine print on the side of the containers revealed the composition of the product was actually 93% canola oil and 7% olive oil.

The ACCC pursued the matter because despite there being no formal mandatory standard in Australia for olive oil, it ruled it was widely accepted that products labelled as extra virgin olive oil are of the highest grade quality and are not blended with other products.

Paying the infringement notices was not an admission of wrongdoing, the watchdog said.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims said in a statement consumers need to be able to trust product labels when making purchasing decisions.

“Traders who mislead consumers in this manner leave themselves wide open to enforcement action from ACCC,” Sims said.

SmartCompany contacted MIO International (Australia) but received no response prior to publication.

Hall and Wilcox partner Ben Hamilton told SmartCompany this case acts as a reminder to businesses the ACCC is active in the area of misleading labelling.

“It reinforces the fact that these laws are focused on the consumer. The ACCC has focused on a couple of representations made by the company and what they mean to consumers.

“It’s important for businesses to look at what the consumer may perceive to be the case when making a representation and understand that fine print is not always sufficient to avoid being misleading, so therefore businesses can’t just rely on disclaimers,” he says.

Hamilton says whether or not a business pays an infringement notice or lets the case go to court is varied on a case-by-case basis.

Labelling laws have been making headlines recently, as last year the Greens ignited a push for a new labelling system to help shoppers better identify food and produce grown in Australia.

Earlier this year Sims also confirmed labelling as an area of interest for the ACCC, particularly claims made about premium products which consumers had no way of validating.

Already this year the ACCC has taken action against two Australian duck companies for misleading advertising when they claimed their ducks were “open range” and “range reared and grain fed”.

 

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