Italy’s Balocco has come under fire from the country’s competition regulator over claims the cakes and biscuits maker misled consumers in a marketing campaign.

Fossano-based Balocco Industria Dolciaria is being investigated by the Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato (AGCM) over its ‘Chiara Ferragni and Balocco together for the Regina Margherita hospital in Turin’ promotion, which ran in November and December last year.

Ferragni is an Italian model and clothes designer who was used to promote Balocco’s limited edition pandoro, a traditional Italian dessert popular at Christmas, in a campaign to support cancer research at the hospital in Turin.

“Consumers could have thought that by purchasing the Ferragni ‘branded’ pandoro they were contributing to the donation to the Regina Margherita hospital in Turin,” AGCM claimed in a statement. “The company, on the other hand, had already decided on the amount regardless of the sales performance of the product.”

AGCM confirmed its officials carried out inspections at Balocco’s offices yesterday (14 June), accompanied by the authority’s special antitrust unit and Guardia di Finanza, the Italian law enforcement agency under the purview of the Minister of Economy and Finance.

An AGCM spokesperson told Just Food the authority could not share any more details at this stage regarding the status or progress of the investigation, which alleges “unfair commercial practice in relation to the commercial initiative”.

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Balocco had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.

AGCM added: “Both in the press releases and on the pandoro packaging, the way in which the initiative was presented could mislead consumers by leveraging their sensitivity to charitable initiatives with a social background.

“In fact, consumers could be led to believe that by purchasing Ferragni’s ‘branded’ pandoro they were contributing to the donation for the purchase of a new machine, while Balocco had arranged a fixed-cost donation to the hospital several months before the advertising launch of the initiative and therefore completely independently of the sales trend of the product.”

Balocco is a family-owned branded food business, initially set up as a bakery shop by Francesco Antonio Balocco in 1927. The company generates a turnover of €222m ($240.3m), mainly from Europe, with exports accounting for around 13%, according to its website. Overseas markets include Asia, Australia, the US and the Middle East.