The ACCC has taken action against Carlton & United Breweries (CUB) for representations on the labelling of Byron Bay Pale Lager that gave the impression it was brewed by a local Byron Bay brewer, when in reality it was manufactured about 630km away at CUB’s main brewing site in Warnervale, NSW. This action is in line with the ACCC’s 2014 enforcement priority of targeting large companies that attempt to market themselves as small, niche businesses (read more about the 2014 priorities here).
The misleading representations involved images on the labelling associated with Byron Bay, including a surfboard and a lighthouse, and a map of the area pointing out the location of the Byron Bay Brewing Company. The back label also included the following description:
The Byron Bay Brewing Co is located on Skinner’s Shoot Road in Byron Bay. We’re housed in a historic location, a birthplace of much of the fame and spirit of Byron Bay which has attracted local and international musicians, artists and alternative thinkers since the ‘70s. Next time you’re in town, drop in and have a beer.
Brewed in NSW by the Byron Bay Brewing Company and its Licensees
The Byron Bay Brewing Company is not a subsidiary of CUB; it has a licensing arrangement that gives CUB the right to supply the Byron Bay Pale Lager branded beer throughout Australia. Beer that is brewed at the Byron Bay Brewery is only available on tap on-site in Byron Bay.
Misleading consumers as to the place of origin of a product has been an ongoing concern of the ACCC in recent years, particularly in relation to food and beverage products. ACCC Chairman Rod Sims explained the ACCC’s concerns about such conduct as being because: ‘these issues go to the heart of market efficiency. If consumers become sceptical as to claims concerning how products are made (eg free range) or niche products, then innovation and competition will suffer.’
As a result of its conduct, CUB was issued two Infringement Notices totalling $20,400, and the ACCC has accepted a court enforceable undertaking in which CUB agreed to cease distribution of the product with this labelling. The company is also required to place corrective notices on its website and in trade publications, and provide a corrective notice to be displayed at retail outlets. The beer’s labelling will be revised to better represent the nature of the relationship between CUB and Byron Bay Brewing Company.
Participants in the food and beverage industry should take note of the ACCC’s focus on this concern. As Rod Sims has stated: “The ACCC will be writing to other participants putting them on notice of this matter in order to ensure that marketing and labelling in the beer market appropriately reflects where and by whom beer is brewed.” The actions taken against CUB serve as a good reminder for producers and distributors in the food and beverage sector to review their product labelling and promotional materials, as we expect investigations of this kind to continue.