Barilla, unfair trade practices?

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Barilla, unfair trade practices? Exposed by Great Italian Food Trade to the Antitrust Authority. Too many misleading comparative claims

Does Barilla employ misleading comparative claims? Great Italian Food Trade is convinced of this and has therefore asked the Antitrust Authority to intervene. For more than a year, the Barilla group has included nutrition claims on at least 42 labels boasting reductions in saturated fat that are often unremarkable compared to the average product on the market.

A message so effective that it has enabled the Parma-based group to regain market share lost due to its previous stubbornness in keeping palm oil in recipes.

However, these business practices have misled consumers about the actual characteristics of the products, as well as harming competitors who play by the rules.

Barilla, the antitrust complaint.

In its complaint to the Antitrust Authority, Great Italian Food Trade denounces Barilla’s extensive use of comparative nutritional claims-referring to reduced saturated fat content-that are misleading because the comparison refers to ‘the previous recipe’ of the same foods, which are no longer available on the shelf. Instead of-as prescribed by European rules and the code of conduct of the trade association AIDEPI (which Paolo Barilla chairs)-to the average of the currently best-selling products in Italy.

Because of this business practice, consumers are misled into believing that Barilla products are actually lighter than competing foods. But this is often not the case. And so it is that the various bodies called upon to interpret the so-called claims regulation (EC Reg. 1924/06) have already taken care to clarify how the comparison should be made with the average of the best-selling foods in the relevant product category.

Deception to consumers already reported

We had already denounced in recent months theillegality of comparative claims made on Cric Crok popcorn as well as by Barilla on Mulino Bianco’s Macine and Ringo cookies (Pavesi, Barilla Group). Highlighting the violation of the aforementioned regulations.

The investigation continued on as many as 42 Mulino Bianco, Gran Cereale, Pavesi, and Ringo brand products. Cookies, snacks, rusks, breadsticks, crackers, bruschetta, and others. On whose labels-photographed in various supermarkets between June and August 2017-the boast of the reduction of significant shares of saturated fat stands out in large print, except by referring with an asterisk to the impermissible comparison term in a less visible area of the package.

Harm to fair competition

The complaint also gives about ten examples of the proper operation of other leading Italian confectionery industries, which report the comparison to the average of the best-selling products on the market. Apparently therefore, the Parma-based giant would be the only one among the large operators to disregard the established criteria. With what illicit advantage over law-abiding competitors?

The Antitrust Authority itself had at the time clarified that in the case of comparative nutrition claims, the label must always refer to the source of the data (e.g., Nielsen, Symphony IRI, industry trade association) used to come up with the comparison parameter. While the details of the analysis can instead be specified on the operator’s website.

The Ministry of Health and Consumer Associations, through the National Consumers and Users Council, were in turn informed about the complaint. Aiming to provide clarity on how the common rules are applied, and put an end to behavior that is detrimental to both consumers and competition.

Dario Dongo