A Sydney-based health food business has been forced to defend itself on social media after an “honest mistake” lead to the company releasing Anzac “cookies” without following Department of Veterans Affairs guidelines for the biscuits.
Ella’s Wisdom paleo and vegan delicatessen is based in Miranda, NSW, and offers a range of biscuit and bread options for vegan customers and those with coeliac disease.
The business first came under fire for its Anzac offering via a Reddit post two days ago feauturing a photo of its “Cauliflower Shortbread Anzac Cookie”, accompanied by the tagline “That’s just unaustralian”.
While the post was referring to the use of the word “cookie” over “biscuit” in the product’s title, one comment writer also noticed the company’s use of the term “ANZAC”. To use the term in a commercial context, companies are required to have permission from the Minister for Veteran Affairs through the Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA).
The guidelines say biscuits can be described as ‘Anzac,’ but they must “generally conform to the traditional recipe and shape”, and must be referred to as “Anzac Biscuits” or “Anzac Slice”.
“Referring to these products as ‘Anzac Cookies’ is generally not approved, due to the non-Australian overtones,” the DVA guidelines state.
Speaking to SmartCompany, chief executive of Ella’s Wisdom Alessio Frattini said the company had started selling the cookies three years ago but had only used the ANZAC branding for the past year and a half, and had “no idea” about the DVA requirements.
“We came to Australia five years ago and started Ella’s Wisdom less than two years ago. We were just trialling recipes – most of which customers suggest to us,” Frattini says.
“We created these and a customer said we should call them Anzac cookies, and I never even thought about there being a law that protected the name. We had literally no idea.”
The cookies were intended to provide an alternative for vegan customers or ones with specific dietary requirements says Frattini, aiming to give shoppers a healthy alternative to an “Australian classic”.
“It was never intended to create any offense,” he says.
Frattini, who runs Ella’s Wisdom with his business partner Ella, said the initial feedback after the first Reddit post was “pretty rough”, with some commenters laying into the business.
“The keyboard warriors on Reddit really have no shame, they called us bastards and said they’d come kick our ass,” he said.
“Some even said they thought the cookie would taste like elephant butthole. How could someone ever know what that tastes like?”
However, after posting the story to the business’ Facebook page, the business owners have received an outpouring of support from customers, which Frattini says has been “mind-blowing”.
“I love these!! The fact that you made a cookie that is so inclusive and that so many people can enjoy! That’s Australian to me!” wrote one customer.
However, the use of the term “cookie” was still a point of contention for many customers, which Frattini put down to a lack of knowledge around Australian culture.
“I called it a cookie because the size was bigger and it felt like more of a cookie than a biscuit. I’m Italian, I have no idea about the difference, and there was nothing about it when I googled it,” he said.
The business has been in communication with DVA, which told Frattini to discontinue production and finish selling the stock the business has already.
Frattini says he doesn’t plan to continue the production of the cookie, instead gearing up for a new line of healthy biscuits in the coming weeks.
Looking forward, the business doesn’t view the issue as a big deal, instead “feeling blessed” by the support it has received from its community, and is trying to ignore the trolls.
“When people want to insult and lie they’ll always find the space to do that online, but on the other side of that, we’re just two people in a very small business working to supply over 40 stores,” he says.
In a statement to SmartCompany, a DVA spokesperson said there were “clear regulations” around the use of the term Anzac, but admitted the rules could be better known.
“The rules around the use of the word ‘Anzac’ are not widely known, which often results in misuse. When reports of alleged misuse are made, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) investigates and takes appropriate action,” the spokesperson said.
“In most cases, this involves contacting the business misusing the word and requesting that use of the word be ceased. Legal action regarding the misuse of the word ‘Anzac’ will be taken if requests to comply with the regulations are not actioned.”
Guidelines for the use of the word Anzac can be found on the DVA’s website.