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Unilever and The Smith’s Snackfood Co, PepsiCo’s Australian arm, have been fined AUD10,800 (US$8,146) each for using “misleading healthy food representations” on products sold in Australia to school canteens. 

The rebuke, which comes as part of a crackdown on the representation of unhealthy foods in Australia, was handed down by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. According to the ACCC, the regulator had “reasonable grounds” to believe both companies made “false or misleading representation on the packaging of popular products they supply that the products had been approved or were suitable as healthy options for school canteens”. 

Unilver’s Paddle Pop Rainbow packaging included a logo on the front, back and one side of the packaging with the words “School Canteen Approved” and a tick symbol. Smith’s Sakata Paws Pizza Supreme Rice Snacks included a logo with the words “Meets School Canteen Guidelines” and an image of a sandwich and apple.

The packaging of both products included a disclaimer that the product met the ‘amber’ criteria of the National Healthy School Canteens Guidelines, which were estpablished in 2010 by the Australian Department of Health. Products that fall into the “amber” category should be “selected carefully” rather than regularly consumed, according to the guidelines. 

However, the disclaimer included by Smith’s and Unilever were “in a small font size and on a different side to the logos”, the ACCC stressed. The ACCC did not consider these disclaimers were “sufficiently prominent” to “correct the misleading representations” created by the logos.

“The ACCC believes both companies were using logos to claim that these products were a healthy option for school canteens to supply to children, when they were not,” ACCC commissioner Sarah Court said.

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“School canteen managers, parents and caregivers rely upon product packaging and labelling when choosing healthy snacks for children. The ACCC is currently examining consumer protection issues around ensuring that the health claims made by large businesses are accurate and will not mislead consumers.”

Unilever and Smith’s have informed the ACCC they will both stop using the logos on their product packaging.

Last month, the ACCC slammed Kraft Heinz for “misleading” consumers by suggesting the company’s Little Kids Shredz products are a “healthy and nutritious” food for children aged one- to three-years “when this is not the case”

At the time, ACCC chairman Rod Sims the watchdog is targeting misleading health claims that are being made by “major companies”. 

He explained: “The ACCC wants to make clear that major companies have an obligation under the Australian Consumer Law to ensure products’ health claims do not mislead the public. As part of the ACCC’s current focus on consumer protection issues arising from health claims by large businesses, we are particularly concerned about potentially misleading health claims for products being marketed for very young children.”