On 4 June 2015, the Court of Justice of the European Union ("CJEU") ruled that the labelling of a foodstuff may mislead consumers if the packaging, taken as a whole, gives the impression that a certain ingredient is present, even though that ingredient is not in fact present.
The facts of the case are as follows:
A German producer of teas marketed a fruit tea under the name "Felix raspberry and vanilla adventure". The fruit tea’s packaging contained, in particular, (i) illustrations of raspberries and vanilla flowers, (ii) the descriptions "fruit tea with natural flavourings – raspberry-vanilla taste" and (iii) a seal with the description "only natural ingredients".
In fact, the tea did not contain any natural raspberry or vanilla aromas, but rather natural aromas which tasted like raspberry and vanilla. The list of ingredients was as follows: “Hibiscus, apple, sweet blackberry leaves, orange peel, rosehip, natural flavouring with a taste of vanilla, lemon peel, natural flavouring with a taste of raspberry, blackberries, strawberry, blueberry, elderberry.”
A German consumer-protection association complained that, because of the items mentioned on the packaging, the producer had misled consumers with regard to the tea’s ingredients. It argued that the descriptions on the packaging would lead consumers to expect the tea to contain vanilla and raspberry or at least natural vanilla flavouring and natural raspberry flavouring.
The producer held that it was sufficiently clear to consumers from the list of ingredients that the product did not contain any natural raspberry or vanilla aromas.
The case was referred from the German courts to the CJEU. The question was whether the labelling of a foodstuff could mislead consumers if it gives the impression that a particular ingredient is present, even though it is not in fact present, and the only way consumers can find out is by reading the list of ingredients.
The CJEU ruled that “where the labelling of a foodstuff and methods used for the labelling, taken as a whole, give the impression that a particular ingredient is present in that foodstuff, even though that ingredient is not in fact present, such labelling is such as could mislead the purchaser as to the characteristics of the foodstuff”.
According to the CJEU “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”.