Product labeling may not mislead the consumer

December 1, 2015
Karol Błąd

Court of Justice of the European Union (the “Court”) on 4 June 2015 (case C-195/14), stated that presenting on the product packaging ingredients which are not in fact present in the product may mislead the purchaser. According to article 2(1)(a)(i) of the Directive 2000/13/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 March 2000 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to the labeling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs (the “Directive”), misleading labeling of products is forbidden, since it should not evoke the impression, that some specific ingredient is present in the product, when in fact it is not. The Tribunal pointed out, that even, when on the product packaging there is a correct and comprehensive list of ingredients it could be in some cases not enough to remove false impression of the purchaser, who at first evaluates the product packaging (not the list of ingredients).

The verdict of the Court was issued on the basis of tea named “Felix Himbeer-Vanille Abenteuer” (“Felix raspberry and vanilla adventure”) produced by Teekanne. On the tea packaging was placed depictions of raspberries and vanilla flowers, the indications “Früchtetee mit natürlichen aromen” (“fruit tea with natural flavourings”) and “Früchtetee mit natürlichen aromen – Himbeer-Vanille-Geschmack” (“fruit tea with natural flavourings – raspberry-vanilla taste”), moreover a seal with the indication “nur natürliche Zutaten” (“only natural ingredients”) inside a golden circle. At the same time, on the packaging the producer put a list of ingredients, which clearly showed that tea does not contain any natural ingredients derived from raspberries and vanilla nor flavourings obtained from them. The fruit tea has got only the flavourings, which taste like raspberries and vanilla.

The Tribunal said, that such labeling of fruit tea can be misleading for consumer as it gives the impression that it contains raspberry and vanilla-flower or flavourings obtained from those ingredients, even though such constituents or flavourings are not present in that tea, which is confirmed by tea’s list of ingredients. In that case, the producer in one place of the packaging gave the consumer credibly information about product’s ingredients (in accordance with the provisions of the Directive), but in the other place of packaging the producer indicated the presence of ingredients, which in fact do not occur in the product.

In that case, following the Court reasoning: “the list of ingredients, even though correct and comprehensive, may in some situations not be capable of correcting sufficiently the consumer’s erroneous or misleading impression concerning the characteristics of a foodstuff that stems from the other items comprising its labelling.”

The judgment is available on the website of Court of Justice of the European Union:

http://curia.europa.eu/juris/liste.jsf?td=ALL&language=en&jur=C,T,F&num=C-195/14