Frankfurt's Higher Regional Court ruled this week that producer Ferrero had to change the Nutella label. Each transgression of the ruling would attract a fine of €250,000 - if it is upheld by a higher court on appeal.
The labels currently show the percentage of a person's daily requirement Nutella provides in two different sections.
The share of daily requirements of vitamin provided by Nutella - between 30 and 78 percent – can only be achieved by eating 100 grams. Yet the low share of carbohydrate and fat (3 percent and 7 percent respectively) printed on the labels are contained in just 15 grams of Nutella.
Complaints from consumer protection organisations against the firm were upheld by a lower court, which said the labelling was misleading, but Ferrero appealed the decision – and said on Thursday it would do the same against the latest ruling, taking the case to the Federal Courts of Justice.
“The consumer looks first of all on the percentage figures,” said Susanne Einsiedler, legal expert from the Federal Association of Consumer Associations (VZVB).
This view was shared by the court which said that consumers would not generally have the time while shopping to realise the difference between the measures referred – creating a relevant deceit.
A product which supposedly contains small amounts of substances such as sugar and fat but high levels of vitamins and minerals would be considered particularly valuable, the court said.
Ferrero Deutschland said it remained convinced the labels were transparent and understandable, and conformed to the law. But it also said it would voluntarily change them at the end of the year, making all values relate to portions.
The company has long been a target for consumer protection groups which have criticised its sponsorship of sporting events and use of sports personalities – including the German national football team – in advertising. This links what they say are fundamentally unhealthy products with the idea of sports and health.
Ferrero's Kinderreiegel little chocolate bars are sold with the slogan, “Extra portion of milk with much good calcium” – but consumer protection group Foodwatch has calculated that a child would have to eat 13 of the bars to get a daily requirement of calcium. This would also involve consuming the equivalent of 48 cubes of sugar and half a packet of butter, the group claimed.
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The popular Milch-Schnitte bars, also made by Ferrero have too come under fire from Foodwatch, which has described them as "calorie bombs."
The law is clear in banning misleading food labelling and advertising. The consumer protections and the Consumer Ministry have cooperated to launch the internet site www.lebensmittelklarheit.de where consumers are invited to make submissions of product information they feel are misleading.