Wednesday, November 14, 2012
A LEADING Suffolk food company which prides itself on using top quality and fresh ingredients has been ordered to pay almost £30,000 for mis-labelling its products.
Stark Naked Foods Limited admitted breaching 14 food safety and consumer protection laws relating to its range of pesto products during a hearing held at Ipswich Magistrates Court yesterday.
The court heard how the company, based in London Road, Ipswich, had sold goods to ASDA and Waitrose supermarkets which
contained sunflower oil even though labels claimed only extra virgin was used.
Other charges related to products sold to Waitrose which contained frozen ingredients despite its labels stating it only used fresh herbs, and claims that herbs were sourced from local farmers when this was not always the case.
The cases were brought against the company by Suffolk County Council’s Trading Standards department. Initially, the company had faced 30 charges but these were reduced to 14, including 11 for breaching the Food Safety Act and three for breaching Consumer Protection laws for using misleading marketing on its website.
The couple who run the business, Marcus and Victoria Welch of Langton Green in Eye, also faced 30 charges each but these were later dropped.
Prosecuting, Alison Lambert said the company had failed to change its labels despite receiving advice from Trading Standards.
The company had sought approval by the authority for its labels, but when an inspection was carried out they found a number of breaches had been made.
The company, which was estimated to have been worth £1.2million, denied any deliberate wrong-doing and said there were minor technical labelling issues.
The company was fined £23,500 and £5,000 in legal costs. The total cost of the investigation to the county council was £30,000.
The company’s solicitor Fred Philpott said: “This was a heavy handed, sledge hammer approach by the council. £29,000 of public money has been spent despite there being no customer complaints or safety issues.”
He later added: “Trading Standards have cost five Suffolk people their jobs and four out of the five supermarkets which bought the products have withdrawn their business. The company is in trouble.”
The company said the errors were down to a technical manager who changed the recipes without changing the labels.
The court accepted the offences were not made in a malice fashion but found errors continued to occur despite warnings.
Speaking after the hearing, the company issued a statement which read: “Whether the business survives of not is an open question. If it does not the sole reason will be the involvement of Suffolk Trading Standards. Of the total costs incurred, the company was ordered to pay only £5,000 leaving the council tax payer to bear the rest.
“The court today expressly said that what had happened was not done deliberately or for financial gain.”
Councillor Colin Spence, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for public protection said; “It is entirely unacceptable for a local company to mislead the public with false labelling claims and substitute ingredients in order to cut costs.
“We want to reassure the public that we are working hard to maintain the high standards of food and drink in Suffolk. We continue to check food labelling and claims and we will take action against manufacturers in the county who commit food fraud.”