How ‘bout them apples: Coles faces fresh criticism over its “spring” fruit claims

How ‘bout them apples: Coles faces fresh criticism over its “spring” fruit claims

Coles is facing fresh criticism for misleading its customers, after the Advertising Standards Board found its ad for ‘spring’ apples was misleading.

The finding comes after the supermarket was slapped with a three year ban from advertising its bread products as “freshly baked” in June, after the Federal Court ruled Coles had engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct.

The ad watchdog upheld a complaint made against the television commercial featuring celebrity chef Curtis Stone, in which Stone makes reference to Tasmanian Pink Lady Apples being “fresh” in store.

“Feed your family better, fresher, with spring fruit and veg from Coles,” said Stone in the ad.

A viewer complained to the board: “This is wrong and not possible, I live in Tassie and my apple tree is dormant! These apples would have been in storage for MONTHS, they are not fresh.”

“This ad is misleading and my wife would like a personal apology from Curtis (or cash),” argued the complaint.

Coles responded, admitting its apples are harvested across Australia over a period of approximately two months during autumn, with the bulk sourced from Tasmania. It said the pink lady variety featured in the ad was harvested in the last half of April this year.

The supermarket giant said it believed its apples can remain fresh because of its “advanced cold storage facilities”.

“Coles’ view that produce can remain ‘fresh’ despite storage is consistent with the Macquarie Dictionary, which defines ‘fresh’ as retaining the original properties unimpaired; not deteriorated; not canned or frozen; not preserved by pickling, salting, drying, etc,” said the company.

But while the board was satisfied the use of the word ‘fresh’ in relation to apples was not itself misleading, it did take issue to the ad’s reference to the terms ‘spring’.

It found the commercial implied the apples were spring fruit and had been freshly picked during the spring season.

“The board considered that the likely interpretation of the advertisement by the average consumer would be that the Tasmanian apples being promoted as fresh this Spring would have been freshly picked in recent weeks and not over 3 months ago,” said the watchdog.

Coles released a statement saying the ad aired in Tasmania for three days and won’t be aired again.

“We’re committed to supporting local growers and offering our customers great quality fresh produce throughout the year,” said the company.

“We only sell Aussie grown apples in our stores with the bulk of apples coming from Tasmanian growers.”

There has been no legal action taken against the misleading claims, but TressCox partner Alistair Little told SmartCompany there was potential the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission may act.

“Coles are certainly trying to promote products as hard as they can, but the language chosen has gone further than it should have,” he says.

Little says the matter has been dealt with by the Advertising Standards Board, and while the board has no legal power to compel a company to remove an ad, businesses do generally comply with any decisions made.

He says the lesson for small business owners is that they should avoid using specific terms and stick to more general credence claims in their advertising. He says the use of the term ‘fresh’ was broad enough to not be considered misleading, but the term ‘spring’ implied the apples had indeed been picked in spring.

“The blander or more general the statement, the less risk you run. When you are making any kind of statement in an ad, it’s important for it to be accurate,” he says.

“Unless you can be absolutely certain about the claims you make…  it’s better to be more generic.”

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