An Australian distributor has allegedly misled its customers with a green-and-gold themed ‘Aussie Beer’ actually made in China.
The NSW-based company has already paid a $10,200 fine, but has not admitted that emblazoning the beer bottles and cartons with a map of Australia and the words ‘Australia’s finest malt’ was false or misleading.
The consumer watchdog issued an infringement notice against Independent Liquor Group on “reasonable grounds” it broke the law by supplying the supposedly true-blue beer between March and August last year.
“Country of origin representations, particularly those designed to grab the eye of the consumer by using well known symbols, colours, or slogans, must be truthful,” said Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chairman Rod Sims in a statement.
It is “ridiculous” for any foreign-made product to be marketed as ‘Aussie’, and “incredible” the company thought it could escape punishment, said independent consumer advocate Christopher Zinn.
“My main concern is that somebody allegedly responsible for this could think they would get away with it, which makes you wonder how many other people think they can call something ‘Aussie’,” Mr Zinn said.
“The idea that people can play around with where beers actually come from – for me, that takes chicanery to a new place.
“The lesson is, look at the label.”
More than malts the eye
Beer’s true country of origin can often be counter-intuitive.
In India, the Canadian-based company International Breweries (IBL) sells two popular products called ‘Australian Lager’ and ‘Australian Max’, both of which are produced in India.
Other local examples are the Japanese beer Asahi made in China; the Dutch beer Heineken made in Sydney; and the Belgian beer Stella Artois made in the United Kingdom and Australia, as well as Belgium.
Consumer group CHOICE has previously warned of huge multi-national companies such as SAB Millar buying up so-called ‘craft’ beers, thereby forcing out locally-owned brews.
“Beer lovers are targeted because they’re passionate, and they’re often very passionate Australians, and I think it’s very un-Australian for these importers to be targeting innocent Aussies in this way,” CHOICE head of media Tom Godfrey said.
“We know that manufacturers and importers like to pass themselves off as being Australian because it commands a premium,” Mr Godfrey said.
“With a product like beer, any time they can associate themselves with being Australian, they know that people will pay more.”
Clarity coming soon to a shop near you
The federal government is already working to reform labelling laws in the wake of the recent frozen berries hepatitis scandal.
Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane has hinted he may pursue a new Australian-made logo (and possibly a government-endorsed smartphone app as well) to help consumers clearly identify the source of their food and drink.
“The Australian Government is working hard to ensure that consumers have access to clear, consistent and easy-to-understand food labelling, through changes that will allow for more informed choices,” said the Minister in a statement.
The new symbol will identify that the product was made or manufactured in Australia and what percentage of the ingredients were locally grown, the Minister said.
The Independent Liquor Group Distribution Co-operative Ltd did not respond to The New Daily‘s request for comment.
—with reporting by Dan Moss