By Aimee Chanthadavong

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is taking supermarket giant Coles to the Federal Court.

The ACCC alleges Coles has acted in false, misleading and deceptive conduct in the supply of bread that was partially baked and frozen off site, transported to Coles stores and ‘finished’ in-store. The products were then promoted as ‘Baked Today, Sold Today’ and/or ‘Freshly Baked In-Store’ at Coles stores with in-house bakeries.

The legal action covers various ‘Cuisine Royale’ and ‘Coles Bakery’ branded bread products. The ACCC alleges that labels on these par baked products stating ‘Baked Today, Sold Today’ and in some cases ‘Freshly Baked In-Store’, and nearby prominent signs stating ‘Freshly Baked’ or ‘Baked Fresh’, were likely to mislead consumers into thinking that the bread was prepared from scratch in Coles’ in-house bakeries on the day it was offered for sale and that it was entirely baked on the day it was offered for sale.

Coles also uses these same representations to promote bread that has been made from scratch in Coles’ in-store bakeries. The ACCC is concerned that Coles’ lack of distinction in its promotional representations between bread products that are freshly prepared from scratch and par baked products is misleading to consumers and places competing bakeries that do freshly bake from scratch at a competitive disadvantage.

“There are two important issues at stake. First, consumers must be able to make informed purchasing decisions. Bread is an important grocery basket staple and customers need to be confident in claims made about food they buy,” ACCC chairman Rod Sims said.

“We believe consumers are likely to have been misled by Coles that the entire baking process, including preparation, occurred in-store, when in fact the bakery products were prepared and partially baked off site, frozen, transported and then ‘finished’ in store. Indeed, the Cuisine Royale products were partially baked overseas.”

“Second and just as important, is the detrimental impact on the businesses of competitors. Misleading credence claims can undermine the level playing field and disadvantage other suppliers. In this case those suppliers are the smaller, often franchised bakeries that compete with Coles.”
In the past few years, Coles has heavily promoted its in-store bakeries and introduced a number of ‘rustic’ bread lines. Many of these ‘artisan-like’ breads have been par baked and frozen before being ‘finished off’ before sale, whereas many independent bakeries make their bread from scratch in the bakery on the day of sale.

The ACCC is seeking declarations, injunctions, pecuniary penalties, orders that Coles review its compliance program, orders that Coles publish corrective notices on its website and in Coles supermarkets that have in-store bakeries, and costs.

A Coles spokesperson told RetailBiz Coles will be strongly defending the allegations made by the ACCC.

“Whether they are made from scratch by our in-store bakers or prepared by our bakery suppliers and then baked in our stores, we believe our bakery products offer customers fantastic quality and great value. We intend to vigorously defend this case in the courts," the Coles spokesperson said.