Are Your Groceries Trying To Fool You?

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James Walker, Consumer Champion explains how Supermarkets may be misleading consumers over the origins of their produce and gives tips on how you can challenge it if you feel mislead.

The UK’s consumers have a weak spot for the pretty image of the beautiful British countryside. And this yearning is never stronger than when out shopping for our groceries. We just love the idea that Farmer Giles has lovingly hand-reared our bacon, potatoes and lettuce on a picturesque Yorkshire farm.

So tomatoes from ‘Nightingale Farms’, bacon from ‘Woodside Farms’ and blueberries from Rosedene Farms? They might all sound British, but could come from Morocco, Senegal, Denmark, Holland, Argentina, Chile, Poland or Spain. Feeling a little bit duped at this point? I’d understand if you were…

And now, the National Farmers Union is looking at taking legal action against supermarkets who are, they argue, misleading customers about the origin of their produce.

But what can the supermarkets get away with? And how can you challenge it if you feel misled?

The Rules

Interestingly, supermarkets are not necessarily obliged to provide info on the country of origin of food they sell. There is, however, a long list of foods that must show a country of origin if imported from outside the EU.

More importantly, the government says that retailers “must also show the country of origin if customers might be misled without this information, eg if the label for a pizza shows the leaning tower of Pisa but the pizza is made in the UK.”

So a product labelled ‘Rosedene Farms’ that’s actually made in Argentina? They’re obliged to tell you. And, in fairness, most products do.

…But Are They ‘As Described’?

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 says that all goods should be ‘as described’. Now, it’s all a question of interpretation, but I’d say that some of this branding very much treads a fine line between fair-and-square branding and misleading.

And the simple truth is that even though the country of origin will almost certainly be on this cheeky packaging, most of us don’t inspect the smallprint when we’re buying our diced beef or apples.

So if you’ve bought some of this produce, thinking it UK-sourced, get in touch with the retailer you’ve bought it from and tell them you feel duped! At worst you’ll get no response… but you might get an apology, or even some sort of gesture of goodwill.

Consumer Rights Act? Just What Is That?

This came into force, back in October 2015. Effectively, the new rules combine the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999, Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977, Sale of Goods Act 1979 and the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982.

What This Means For You:

  • A new 30-day return period for faulty goods, simplifying and unifying a confusingly varied set of rules
    • More rights to challenge misleading small print – Consumers will be able to challenge any terms and conditions they perceive to be unfair, or which are hidden in small print
    • More redress for bad service – There will be a clear right to demand a price reduction for poor-quality services, or for them to be redone, for the first time
    • It will be easier for consumers and small businesses to get compensation when a business is acting unfairly
    • New rights will make it easier to get a repair or a replacement of faulty digital content such as online films, games, music downloads and e-books

Best of all this, I reckon, is the addition of clear rules surrounding the repair or replacement of digital content such as online games, music downloads, films or ebooks. It’s crazy that it’s taken so long to get this done, though – The internet took off at the end of the 1990s and legislation has taken decades to catch up! In fact, it took Tim Berners Lee just a few years to invent the internet, but 15 years for proper consumer protection for online content to come along.

Alternative Dispute Resolution – What Is It?

When the revised consumer rights legislation comes into effect, there will be a new system to help businesses and consumers when they cannot resolve issues directly with one another. This will be via a system of certified third-party mediators, called Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) providers.

Once an internal complaint process is exhausted, businesses must give the consumer details of a certified ADR provider and tell the consumer if they are willing to use them.

The Alternative Dispute Resolution Directive has been a catalyst for a number of new ‘ombudsmen’ appearing either as specialists for their sector or generalist providers. The term ombudsman is starting to be used far more loosely, and it is causing the landscape to become more complex for the consumer.

You can only go to one of these ombudsmen or ADR providers when an issue cannot be resolved. This is why Resolver really helps – if you cannot resolve, we know which ADR Provider to go to – and when – making it straightforward for the consumer and removing the minefield of ‘who can help me?’.

Written by James Walker Fighting For Your Rights! Consumer Champion – the man who helps you resolve your consumer complaints! James Walker is the founder of online complaint-resolution tool Resolver.co.uk Follow James via @resolvercouk, or [email protected]