The manufacturer of Uncle Tobys oats has been hit with more than $30,000 in penalties for allegedly misleading consumers about the amount of protein in its “quick sachets” oats.
Cereal Partners Australia has paid fines worth $32,400 after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission found the company potentially contravened competition law.
Uncle Tobys “quick sachets” oats contained the statement “natural source of protein” while its “traditional oats” product contained the statement “naturally rich in protein”.
However the packaging on both products contained the disclaimer “when prepared with ½ or 2/3 cup of skim milk” in fine print.
These representations were also made in television commercials for Uncle Tobys oats.
The ACCC claims that by presenting the word “protein” and “superfood” prominently on the packaging, Cereal Partners Australia was suggesting Uncle Tobys oats contained a significant amount of protein when this is not the case.
ACCC chairman Rod Sims said in a statement truth in advertising is a “priority enforcement area” for the competition watchdog.
“Consumers should be able to purchase food products based on accurate health and composition claims,” Sims said.
“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 Uncle Tobys products. “Businesses 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.”
Earlier this week, biscuit maker Arnott’s was hit with $51,000 in penalties for making claims about the amount of fat in a variety of its Shapes biscuits.
Yesterday, the company behind the Chemist Warehouse and My Chemist websites was stung with $32,400 in penalties for making claims that consumers were saving money on a product’s recommended retail price when the product was never offered at the RRP.
Rohan Harris, principal at law firm Russell Kennedy, previously told SmartCompany the ACCC is eager to educate retailers about their responsibilities.
“As always, any business has got to be careful it’s not misleading the public, particularly around the issues of price representations,” Harris said.
Cereal Partners Australia is a joint venture between Nestle and General Mills.
A spokesperson for Nestle told SmartCompany the Uncle Tobys traditional oats and quick sachets made claims about protein levels based in skim milk because customer research had shown this was the most common way customers prepared its products.
“Preparation with skim milk was referenced in qualifiers both in the advertising and on the front of the packs,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
“However CPA acknowledges the ACCC’s view that some people may misinterpret the claims, and has stopped using them. The television advertisements stopped running before the infringement notices were received and the packaging change is nearing completion with new packaging currently appearing on shelves.”
*This article was updated on Monday 30 November to include a statement from Nestle.