By James Atkinson
The ACCC’s reprimand of Carlton & United Breweries (CUB) for misleading consumers in its beer labelling could have repercussions for many other beer and wine products currently on the market.
The ACCC last week announced it had fined CUB $20,400 and accepted a court enforceable undertaking from the brewer in relation to its misrepresentation of Byron Bay Pale Lager.
Australian Brews News editor Matt Kirkegaard, who spearheaded an online campaign against the product’s labelling, told TheShout that the ACCC has now flagged that 'where and by whom' a beer is produced could become a future labelling requirement.
“The irony here, and I think the lesson to be learned, is that CUB has been forced to go much further with their labelling than anyone would have expected if they hadn't come to the attention of the ACCC,” he said.
“Their Byron Bay label went so far over the line that the requirements that have been forced on them are now more onerous than would have slipped through if they hadn't been so egregiously misleading.”
Kirkegaard said the 'where and by whom' labelling requirement could affect many smaller brewers that currently have contract brewing arrangements that they do not disclose.
“It would be a significant imposition on small brewers if the ACCC requires that they update their label every time they change their contract brewer to reflect where the beer is made, but if small brewers drag their heels on a level of transparency that the ACCC finds acceptable, they might have even more onerous standards imposed upon them,” he said.
Private label implications
John MacPhail, partner at law firm Finlaysons, told TheShout the decision sounds a warning for the companies behind many wines currently on sale under ‘private labels’.
“Woolworths alone has (through Pinnacle Liquor Group) 256 wine trademarks registered in Australia,” MacPhail said.
“Many of the brand names have ‘mom and pop’ connotations, suggesting a ‘cottage industry’ artisanal production style and methodology. That on its own would probably not be enough to deceive consumers.”
“But if there were something more, e.g. the use of images or a back-label story, which went a bit further than the name itself, this might mean that the total message being conveyed was misleading,” said MacPhail.
Craft Beer Industry Association chair Dave Bonighton said the association welcomes any decision that helps clarify what is required of its members.
“This decision has possible implications for all companies that have all or some of their beers contract brewed and we will be working with the ACCC and seeking independent legal advice to ensure that the industry is educated about its legal requirements,” Bonighton said.
Winemakers Federation of Australia chief executive Paul Evans said: “The Federation has noted this outcome closely and will assess its broader industry implications, including for the home brands of the major retailers.”
A Woolworths Liquor spokeswoman said the company “takes its regulatory obligations extremely seriously and complies with all relevant regulations”.