Heinz could face a $10 million fine for misleading consumers over the nutritional status of a product marketed at toddlers.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has requested the near-maximum fine as a deterrent to the food industry.
The furore centres on the Heinz product, Shredz. They were a dehydrated snack containing 99 per cent fruit and vegetable ingredients. Although they contained no preservatives, artificial colours or flavours, they had a high sugar content.
The Obesity Policy Coalition complained. It said food products for toddlers shouldn’t make fruit and vegetable claims if they mostly consist of fruit juice concentrate and pastes, which are very high in sugar.
In his judgment in March, Justice White seemed to agree. He ruled that the prominent statements on the packaging – that Shredz comprised 99 per cent fruit and vegetables, together with the images of fruit and vegetables – created an impression of nutritiousness.
He reserved his decision on the penalty to a later date.
‘Not good for toddlers’
“I’m satisfied that each of the Heinz nutritionists ought to have known that a representation that a product containing approximately two-thirds sugar was beneficial to the health of children aged one to three years was misleading,” Justice White said.
One expert witness for the ACCC was nutritionist Rosemary Stanton. She told the court the images on the packaging were misleading as the product “is not good for toddlers”.
At the time of the judgment, Heinz said it was disappointed with the ruling but respected the court’s decision.
“Heinz is committed to […] communicating clearly and transparently with consumers on its packaging,” it said in a statement.
Earlier this year, ACCC chairman Rod Sims called for stronger penalties for big business. He said they needed to change corporate culture and improve treatment of consumers.
Penalties for consumer breaches by a company recently rose from $1.1 million to $10 million, or 10 per cent of turnover.