The Italian Antitrust Authority (Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato), imposed fines on the global dis­count super­mar­ket chain Lidl, the world’s largest olive oil pro­ducer, Deoleo, and Pietro Coricelli amount­ing to nearly €1 mil­lion, for unfair busi­ness prac­tices regard­ing their olive oil brands.

After reports by the con­sumer rights mag­a­zine Il Test Salvagente, the Konsumer Italia asso­ci­a­tion and the net­work of con­sumer asso­ci­a­tions, Rete Consumatori Italia, a com­plaint was sub­mit­ted con­cern­ing Deoleo olive oil brands Carapelli, Bertolli, and Sasso; Lidl’s Primadonna brand; and Coricelli.

The out­come of the organolep­tic test is suf­fi­cient to declare that olive oil does not com­ply with the cat­e­gory declared.- Italian Antitrust Authority

The Antitrust Authority, after an appraisal of evi­dence, deliv­ered the judg­ment, which called the ‘extra vir­gin olive oil’ indi­ca­tion on the pack­ag­ing of the olive oils “mis­lead­ing,” after tests found them to meet the para­me­ters of only the ‘vir­gin’ grade.

The com­pa­nies are expected to appeal the deci­sion to the Latium regional admin­is­tra­tive court.

The inves­ti­ga­tion started after a report by the mag­a­zine for con­sumer rights ‘Il Test Salvagente,’ which in May 2015 ana­lyzed olive oil con­tained in 20 bot­tles labeled ‘extra vir­gin olive oil,’ dis­trib­uted and sold by the most pop­u­lar super­mar­kets in Italy.

The analy­ses were con­ducted by the chem­i­cal lab­o­ra­tory of the cus­toms agency in Rome, which down­graded seven brands to vir­gin. The Prosecutor of Turin instructed the NAS, offi­cials from the anti-adul­ter­ation and health unit of the Carabinieri, to repeat the analy­ses, which con­firmed that the olive oils of some pop­u­lar brands includ­ing Carapelli, Bertolli, Sasso, Primadonna and Coricelli were not extra vir­gin as labeled.

The new ver­dict found the com­pa­nies engaged in prac­tices “con­trary to pro­fes­sional dili­gence and appro­pri­ate to dis­tort the eco­nomic behav­ior of the aver­age con­sumer,” and were there­fore “decep­tive.”

In quan­ti­fy­ing the fines, the Antitrust, given the “seri­ous­ness of the breach,” took into account the “eco­nomic size” and “turnover” of the com­pa­nies, and the “spread­ing of prac­tice.” (Carapelli, Bertolli and Sasso with­drew the prod­ucts belong­ing to the lots in ques­tion in May 2016; Coricelli removed the bot­tles from the shelves of super­mar­kets on December 2015.)

The defense argu­ment that sen­sory panel tests were “unre­li­able” was rejected and the judges declared that “the out­come of the organolep­tic test is suf­fi­cient to declare that olive oil does not com­ply with the cat­e­gory declared.”

Regarding De Cecco, another brand charged by the com­plaint, the Antitrust ruled that its prod­uct “cor­re­sponds to the cat­e­gory ‘extra vir­gin’ declared on the label.”

“The Authority’s deci­sion is a strong sig­nal of pro­tec­tion for con­sumers,” said Matteo Pennacchia, respon­si­ble for the agri­food sec­tor of the asso­ci­a­tion Codici. “We finally have the cer­tainty of decep­tion to which con­sumers have been mis­led for years. With our net­work, we will con­tinue the legal bat­tle in all the rel­e­vant fora.”

The pres­i­dent of Konsumer Fabrizio Premuti told Olive Oil Times, “the Antitrust sen­tence pro­vides clar­ity on the major olive oil labels that we find in super­mar­kets and above all on those who sold us vir­gin olive oil declar­ing and adver­tis­ing it as extra vir­gin. Thanks to the syn­ergy between the inde­pen­dent infor­ma­tion of Il Test Salvagente and our asso­ci­a­tions, con­sumers today know that olive oils which were extra vir­gin only on the label were still on the shelves,” he pointed out.

“A real Italian extra vir­gin olive oil has a cost of pro­duc­tion higher than €6, there­fore a €3 extra vir­gin olive oil should make you reflect. Every pur­chase should always be made in the aware­ness of a trans­par­ent and truth­ful offer, not of a sanc­tions process.”


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