International discount supermarket chain Aldi — as well as IGA, Coles, Woolworths and many other independent stores across Australia — have recently come under fire from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) after standard testing revealed that two of their popular stocked oregano products (Stonemill and Menora brands) contained a large percentage of olive leaves instead of the actual herb on the label.
This comes after the Australian consumer group CHOICE’s discovery that only five out of twelve popular brands of dried oregano products being sold in Australia contained pure oregano. The ACCC investigation was instigated after a formal complaint by CHOICE earlier this year.
Random tests of dried oregano products were taken in April of this year following outcomes by U.K consumer advocacy group Which? producing similar results, prompting CHOICE to request in-depth testing of similar local products.
While only single samples of each product where taken, the results were still indicative of a potential breach of Australian Consumer Law as a deliberate attempt to deceive consumers as the packaging of these products had a ‘100 percent oregano’ claim. Aldi said that supply chain issues are to blame and that they were just as surprised as consumers with the test results.
While Aldi has not the worst offender identified it was singled out by the ACCC due to its prominence and reach in the market.
The chain has now agreed to submit to regular testing of its oregano products and is offering consumers refunds on all compromised products purchased within a certain time period.
It is estimated that close to 200,000 units were sold to customers during a year-long period. The brand has also promised to pursue “administrate solutions” with suppliers of their oregano products to prevent this problem happening again.
Aldi is currently the third-largest supermarket chain in Australia and is said to be rapidly gaining on its competitors using a low price strategy to lure customers from other chains. It has yet to be seen whether these revelations will have an impact on consumer confidence or dampen the brand’s plan to expand from its 400 stores into other locations in South and Western Australia.
While there is no explanation yet for how the olive leaves found their way into the oregano products, it is thought that the leaves where chosen due to their bitter taste and low price and the fact that when chopped finely it resembles oregano herbs.
Olive leaves are more frequently used as key ingredient in tea, where its liquid is extracted to form a solution that has been used in traditional Mediterranean and Middle Eastern markets for centuries. It is also powdered and bottled in pill form for its alleged anti-oxidant and immune boosting properties.