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Coles caught out on home grown claims

Coles has paid more than $61,000 in fines to the consumer watchdog after displaying Australian grown signs near imported fruit.

Supermarket giant Coles has been fined $61,200 for selling imported fruit that it advertised as Australian-grown.

The competition watchdog acted after a complaint that Coles had displayed imported navel oranges and kiwi fruit underneath signs reading `Helping Australia Grow' and displaying the triangular Australian Grown symbol.

A review by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) between March and May this year found the signage was also being used in other stores for imported asparagus and almonds.

Coles denies breaking any law, saying the signs were mistakenly left behind when stock was moved within its stores.

The payment of the fines is not an admission that Coles broke the Competition and Consumer Act, the ACCC said.

But the signs wrongly gave the impression to customers that the imported produce was Australian grown, it said.

There were small stickers on the produce showing the overseas country of origin, but that did not correct the overwhelming impression that it was Australian due to the imagery of the `Helping Australia Grow' advertising, the ACCC said.

"Consumers should be able to rely on the accuracy of claims about food, particularly when they are prepared to pay a premium for products made in Australia," ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said in a statement.

"Misleading country of origin claims can also have a significant impact on the competitive process and hurt the local economy."

Coles said it paid the ACCC's fines out of expediency to avoid a lengthy and costly legal action in defending its position.

Mr Sims said the misleading signage did not appear to be a case of widespread or systemic conduct, but action was needed because of the importance consumers placed on such claims.

The offences occurred in five stores, in Queensland, NSW, Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory.

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More about: ACCC, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission
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