A Federal Court has found Heinz made a false or misleading representation to consumers about its Little Kids Shredz products
In June 2016, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (the ACCC) commenced proceedings against the food manufacturer Heinz over its three Little Kids Shredz products.
The ACCC alleged that images and statements on the product packaging led consumers to believe they were a health and nutritious food for young children, when this was not the case.
Heinz denied all of the allegations.
This week, the Federal Court of Australia found that while Heinz had represented that its Little Kids Shredz products were beneficial to the health of children aged one to three years, the products were not found to be beneficial due to the high levels of sugars contained in them.
The Court found that the combination of imagery and words on the packaging, including prominent pictures of fresh fruit and vegetables and statements such as “99% fruit and veg”, conjured up the impressions of nutritiousness and health.
During the course of the hearing, it was established that Heinz had contravened s 18(1) and s 29(1)(g) of the Australian Consumer Law (Sch 2 to the Competition and Consumer Act 2010) by engaging in conduct which was misleading or deceptive, and making a false or misleading representation to consumers.
“We welcome the Court’s decision today which shows that businesses that make false or misleading claims about the health benefits of products face serious consequences,” ACCC Acting Chair Delia Rickard said.
“We were particularly concerned by Heinz’ conduct because the Shredz products were marketed as being beneficial for young children,” Ms Rickard said.
“Heinz’ Shredz products consisted of over 60% sugar, significantly higher than that of natural fruit and vegetables. An apple in comparison contains around 10% sugar.”
Presiding Federal Court Judge, the Honourable Justice Richard Conway White, found that due to the high level of sugar, the products “may well have a detrimental effect”, particularly on young children’s teeth regarding their potential to cause dental caries.
He also noted evidence supporting the association between the consumption of free sugars by children and weight gain, and highlighted that the sugar level in each of the products exceeded the level recommended in guidelines issued by Heinz Global in 2011.
“It is also plain that Heinz nutritionists were aware of the levels of sugar in the products,” said the judge.
A hearing on penalties and other orders sought by the ACCC will be held on a date to be fixed by the court.
While the Shredz products were available in supermarkets and some pharmacies nationally from 2013 until at least May 2016, they are now no longer for sale.