The products contained around 60% less saturated fat than the original Shapes, prompting the ACCC to issue an infringement notice to Arnott’s, alleging the company had broken the Australian Consumer Law by making false or misleading representation about the composition of Shapes Light & Crispy.
Arnott’s said the “75% less saturated fat" claim had actually referred to a comparison with “potato chips cooked in 100% palm oil”, but acknowledged this had not been made sufficiently clear to consumers.
The business also acknowledged ACCC concerns about the appropriateness of this comparison where approximately 80% of potato chips available in Australia are not cooked in palm oil. Arnott’s said it believed consumers were familiar with this claim due to its long term use on some potato chips.
Australian Food & Grocery Council legal and regulatory director Chris Preston told BakeryandSnacks it was “somewhat ironic” the ACCC had taken action in relation to a product that had significantly less saturated than its original version.
“The ACCC’s responsibility is consumer protection rather than nutrition,” he said, adding the ACCC had acted in this case as it recognized the high degree of trust consumers placed in product claims.
Preston said the costs of paying an ACCC penalty notice – in this case $51,000 - and associated measures could often be less than the legal costs of challenging the ACCC in court.
Sat fat concern
Common foods that are high in saturated fats include biscuits, cakes, pastries and processed meats, according to Australian Dietary Guidelines. American Heart Association suggests that eating foods that contain saturated fats can raise the level of cholesterol in one’s blood, and many foods that are high in saturated fats can be high in calories as well.
"In strict legal terms, Arnott's accommodation with the regulator (ACCC) involves no admission of guilt,” he added.
He said he believed consumers did not buy treat products expecting them to be healthy, although might want to choose a healthier option. “I think most consumers would consider even a 60% reduction in saturated fat to be healthier in this sense,” he said.
The Arnott’s case would serve as a timely reminder to the broader food industry of the importance in ensuing label claims are accurate and appropriate, concluded Preston.
Arnott’s added that, although the fat content claim has been removed from packs, the product recipe and ingredients remain the same.