The Federal Court has declared Harvey Fresh (1994) Limited misled consumers by falsely representing that two of its cheese products were produced in Western Australia.

From about November 1 2008 to May 7 2009, Harvey Fresh represented on the packaging of its one kilogram blocks of matured cheese and semi-matured cheese that the products were produced in Western Australia. In fact the cheese products were produced in Victoria.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Graeme Samuel welcomed the court decision and said the courts had again reinforced that place of origin claims could be a powerful marketing tool which appealed to consumers and delivered a competitive advantage to some firms. That advantage should not be abused.

"The ACCC remains committed to protecting both the public and competing businesses against those which mislead consumers about the place of origin of their products," he said.

Following proceedings taken by the ACCC on May 7 2009, the court found that Harvey Fresh had engaged in conduct which was misleading or deceptive, or likely to mislead or deceive, and had contravened section 52 of the Trade Practices Act 1974.

The court also declared that Harvey Fresh had made false or misleading representations concerning the place of origin of the cheese and had breached s53(eb) of the Act. The proceedings were resolved by consent between the parties.

In handing down his decision, Justice Siopis stated that:

"the contraventions in this case are serious… the respondent has deliberately adopted a marketing strategy based on the representation that its products are produced in Western Australia. This marketing strategy is designed to appeal to the desire of Western Australians to promote Western Australia products and interests. This is a powerful marketing tool… it is important that the faith that Western Australian consumers place in the respondent’s statements of product origin is not misplaced or undermined."

The court ordered injunctions to prevent Harvey Fresh from making any similar claims about its cheese products in the future, awarded costs to the ACCC and ordered Harvey Fresh to implement a trade practices compliance program.

The court also ordered Harvey Fresh to publish a corrective notice on its website and in The West Australian and other regional newspapers.

Commenting on his order to publish corrective notices, Justice Siopis noted that it was important for Western Australian consumers to know that Harvey Fresh had not complied with the law requiring it to be accurate in making representations about the place of origin of its cheese products.