When ‘natural’ can be artificial

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) recently declared grace  time was over and it was sending officers out to patrol the shelves and enforce the  country of origin food labelling laws. If it’s labelled Aussie, it must be Aussie, totally Aussie.

Which makes a recent labelling issue, unrelated to country of origin, baffling.

The Federal Court has ruled that products bearing the term “naturals” can sometimes be largely artificial.

It has decreed that if the word is less prominent on the packaging than those around it and if it is sold from a discount bin, it’s OK.

Aldi’s Protane Naturals Moroccan Argan Oil hair products are popular sale items. So much so that beauty brand Moroccanoil bought a lawsuit against Aldi for its “Naturals’ promise on the label.

A lower court ruled that Aldi had contravened Australian Consumer Law by engaging in deceptive and misleading conduct by using the word “naturals”. On appeal, the Federal Court ruled that because the writing was small and because the item was regularly found in discount bins, the ordinary consumer would understand the term “Naturals” referred only to the presence of the ingredient, argan oil, and did not indicate the product was mostly composed of natural elements.

The Federal Court said that because the products were sold “in the cheapest part of one of the cheapest stores”, consumers understood that “this is not where one expects to find hair care products made substantially from boutique natural ingredients”.

“If the ordinary reasonable consumer noticed the word ‘Naturals’ at all, they would have understood it to be a sub-line of the ‘Protane’ products and not a statement about the quantity of natural ingredients in the products.

“To the extent that such consumers pondered what was natural about these products, it would have been that they contained some argan oil … this is an Aldi supermarket.”

However, The Age reports that Gerard Brody, Consumer Action Law Centre (CALC) chief executive and chairman of the Consumers Federation of Australia, said people would be left with a misleading impression if manufacturers were able to put the word “Naturals” on their products.

“If a label says ‘natural’, I think people are rightly wanting to rely on that so it means it’s made from natural ingredients,” Mr Brody said.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s in Aldi or a top-end store, they should be entitled to read that and assume the product is natural.”

What’s your view on the use of the term ‘naturals’? Do you agree with the Federal Court decision? Are you a conscientious reader of labels?

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Written by Janelle Ward


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