Tar Lazio, the court of appeals for misleading advertising, affirmed two rulings relating to misleading claims made by Italian crisp manufacturers Amica Chips and Ica Foods, originally brought against the companies in February this year.
The companies had claimed the products were hand-cooked and low in fat, made using artisan production methods. The packaging of one
product implied it was cooked in extra virgin olive oil, when this was actually just one component. Originally also involving two other companies, Pata and St. Carlo, the case resulted in fines of over one million euros for all four.
But for Dr Luca Bucchini, managing director of Italy-based Hylobates Consulting, it is the ruling on artisan credentials that could be significant for manufacturers of genuine artisan products – if it is enforced.
“It may be a victory for all artisanal manufacturers if the principle is widely applied. The judges agreed that any prominent claim referring to manual processing are interpreted by consumers as reference to artisanal production,” he told FoodNavigator.
“Therefore, even if such crisps are really hand cooked, and produced with a process which is different from classical crisps, the claim is misleading because the production is still in an industrial setting, and with industrial procedures - even if partially manual."
The judges also ruled that qualifiers such as ‘style’ or ‘flavour’, for example 'hand cooked flavour', would not alter the misleading nature of the claim.
“This is a significant blow to all companies attempting to differentiate their products with product lines with a (partially) hand-made line,” added Bucchini.
Interest in craft growing
Italy currently has no legal definition of what an artisan product is.
“Indeed, if all ‘hand-made’ type claims are to be considered references to artisanal production, this is urgent,” he said.
According to data from market research company Mintel, consumers throughout Europe are already expressing a willingness to pay more for small-batch, hand-made and artisan products, and this will continue to grow. Over a quarter of Italians are already doing so, compared with 17% in France, 16% in Germany and 15% in Spain, it said.
As consumer interest in craft and artisanal products grows, the need for such definitions across Europe may also grow.
Ireland sets guideline definitions
Earlier this year the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) did just that, drawing up guideline definitions for the terms ‘artisan’, ‘farmhouse’, ‘traditional’ and ‘natural’ in a bid to crack down on their misuse. This came in the wake of complaints from artisan companies that industrial food manufacturers were using such marketing terms to mislead consumers.
Under the guidelines, manufacturers claiming to make artisan products are limited in the quantity they can produce – an average maximum of 1,000 kg/litres per week. The products must also be made by skilled craftspeople at a single location using a traditional method, in use for a minimum of 30 years, that is not fully mechanised.
A product claiming to be traditional must be made using a recipe with proven existence that has not significantly changed for at least 30 years - although automation and mechanisation are acceptable.
Cut that out
The misleading claims in this latest Italian case also related to claims of reduced fat – one product making 20% reduction claim was not in compliance with EU regulation, which requires a minimum of 30% reduction while another product claimed to be low fat.
The percentage of fat reduction and comparison with the fat content of regular crisps were also not written in the same font size on pack.