Sanitarium backs off on misleading fruit claims

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 21st December 2010

An ACCC investigation has left Sanitarium and its parent company Australian Health and Nutrition Association Limited with egg on their face, having overstated the fruit content on the packaging of many of their best-selling cereal lines.

Between February 2009 and October 2010, Sanitarium described a ‘percentage fruit content’ on their packaging which included other substances, such as sugars, wheat fibre and gelling agents. The overstated fruit percentages were shown on the company’s Weet-Bix Wild Berry Bites, Weet-Bix Apricot Bites, Granola Clusters and Light’n’Tasty Triple Berry cereals.

As well as the prominent and boldly-coloured inaccurate fruit percentages, the packages displayed images of fruit and ‘fruit descriptor words’ such as Wild Berry and Apricot, when the cereals only contained a small amount of these fruits.

The ACCC became concerned that Sanitarium was creating the impression their cereals contained more of the prominently-depicted fruit than they really did, conduct which may be in contravention of the Trade Practices Act.

Sanitarium has cooperated with the ACCC, offering a court-enforceable undertaking that it will:

* not use combinations of colours, words and/or images on the packaging of it’s cereal products that are likely to mislead consumers
* list the fruit content on the ingredient panels of its cereals so that the percentage attributed to the fruit accurately and clearly reflects the amount of fruit
* change the ingredient panel labelling of its cereals by providing a breakdown of all the ingredients
* implement a product labelling audit of all its food products to ensure its products accurately describe the food contained within, and
* enhance, maintain and continue to implements its trade practices law compliance program.

Sanitarium described the discrepancy between its packaging and products as an “inadvertent overstatement” and said it would conduct a labelling review and provide employee training.

“Once this oversight was brought to our attention, we immediately updated the nutrition information listed on the side panel of these products; as well as reformulating our Bites range to bolster the fruit content. This change ensures the percentage attributed to the fruit accurately and clearly reflects the amount of fruit included in the product. These revised products and packaging are already available on supermarket shelves,” said a statement from the company.

In welcoming the remedial action, ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel said: “Truth in advertising is important.

“The overall impression of labelling on cereal products can have a significant influence on a consumer’s purchasing decision.”

Mr Samuel said: “Consumers can expect to rely upon the ingredient panel of cereal products. Therefore the information must clearly represent the actual contents of the product. Further, consumers can expect that the actual contents of a product match the overall impression given by the packaging.”