Packaged foods and condiments maker Heinz has been found guilty of using misleading health claims on a range of products for young children, although its penalties for doing so are yet to be determined.
Heinz, which merged with Kraft Foods Group in 2015 to create The Kraft Heinz Company, was taken to court in mid-2016 after the ACCC alleged its Little Kids Shredz product range made false and misleading nutritional claims, including that they contained “99 per cent fruit and veg”.
This was despite the products containing more than 60 per cent sugar, far higher than the natural sugar volumes found in fresh fruits and vegetables.
After lengthy proceedings, the Federal Court this week sided with the ACCC, finding that the claims were indeed misleading to consumers. It went further, claiming that the company’s nutritionists should have known that the claims were inaccurate.
ACCC acting chair Delia Rickard welcomed the outcome of the protracted proceedings.
“The court’s decision today… shows that businesses that make false or misleading claims about the health benefits of products face serious consequences,” Ms Rickard said.
“We were particularly concerned by Heinz’s conduct because the Shredz products were marketed as being beneficial for young children.
“Heinz’s Shredz products consisted of over 60 per cent sugar, significantly higher than that of natural fruit and vegetables. An apple in comparison contains around 10 per cent sugar.”
The products in question are no longer sold, but had been widely available nationwide between 2013 and May 2016, according to the ACCC.
Heinz managing director Bruno Lino issued a statement expressing the company’s disappointment at the verdict, but said that it “respects the decision that has been made”.
“The Shredz products were a dehydrated snack made from 99 per cent fruit, vegetable and chia seed ingredients and did not contain any preservatives, artificial colours or flavours,” said Mr Lino.
“Heinz is committed to providing high-quality food products and to communicating clearly and transparently with consumers on its packaging.”
Mr Lino added: “We are presently reviewing this matter carefully to see if there are any further learnings which can be applied going forward.”
Penalties will be determined at an as yet undetermined date by the court.