New Zealand smallgoods producer Farmland Foods has been fined $180,000 in the Palmerston North District Court for misleading consumers about the place of origin of some of its ham products.
The Bulls based, family-owned meat processing business produces a range of over 100 meat products which are sold at all major supermarkets in New Zealand.
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The company pleaded guilty and was convicted on three charges under the Fair Trading Act relating to labelling on packaging of three sizes of its 'Heritage Cooked on the Bone' ham products, which were sold between 1 October 2015 and 1 September 2018.
The packaging labels contained numerous claims such as:
• "100% NZ owned, Farmland Fresh, made in the country"
• "It's made in the country in our on-farm processing facility located in the 'untouched' Rangitikei region, adjacent to the Santoft forest and within the Pukepapa rainfall catchment area."
• "Our products are made in the country on our family farm in select batches ensuring freshness every time ..."
• "If it's Farmland you can be sure it comes from the best nature has to offer. Made by New Zealanders, for New Zealanders ... it's where good things grow"
• "Gluten Free Produced in New Zealand."
The Commerce Commission said the combination of the imagery, choice of words and overall presentation of the Farmland Foods' packaging in close proximity to references to New Zealand(ers), the country farm and a Bulls address on the packaging, gave consumers the false impression that the products were made from New Zealand reared pork, when the majority of the pork was actually imported.
Commission Chair Anna Rawlings said the country of origin claims were very difficult for consumers to verify, so businesses should ensure references made on food packaging are clear and not misleading.
"None of the packaging on these ham products indicated that imported pork was used to make them. Instead, the packaging gave consumers a false impression that the key pork meat ingredient was reared in New Zealand, when in actual fact 87 percent of it was imported," she said.
"Accurate information on packaging is important for consumers who rely on the information. Some people are often willing to pay a premium for products they believe are New Zealand made, and for some this also represents an important ethical decision," said Rawlings.
She said the country of origin claims were also important for local manufacturers who wanted to protect the high value placed on genuinely New Zealand made products.
In sentencing, Judge Rowe said the representations involved a "significant departure from the truth."
"It is likely that shoppers are moved more by impression than analysis," he said.
"The public is entitled to a high degree of care in relation to their interests and the confidence they may place in business in New Zealand."