The boutique label…the grandmother of all deceptions.

I always wondered why Little Red Riding Hood couldn’t tell the difference between her real grandmother and a wolf dressed up as her grandmother. (Her grandmother must have been a very strange woman with large ears and disturbingly pointed teeth.)

Are Australian consumers like Little Red Riding Hood, unable to see the big retailer in a ‘small producer’s’ label, or do they need extra help from the ACCC or wine producers to figure out what is right in front of them?

Major retailers making and selling wine with labels that appear to come from a small winery have gained recent media attention but this is not a new phenomenon.

Similar conduct has already attracted the attention of the ACCC.

In early 2014, CUB paid fines of $20,400 for misleading and deceptive conduct in relation to the Byron Bay Pale Lager. The ACCC alleged that the labels created the misleading impression that the beer was produced in Byron Bay by the Byron Bay Brewing Company when in fact it was brewed by CUB more than 630 kms away.

ACCC Chairman, Rod Simms, was quoted as saying, ‘When large companies portray themselves as small businesses, it undermines the unique selling point that such small businesses depend on, and it misleads consumers’.

But what can and should the ACCC do to protect the small producers’ ‘unique selling point’?

There is nothing wrong with the development of private label brands of wine, beer and other alcohol as long as those brands and labels are not misleading. For the ACCC to successfully take action on any retailer’s private label apparently from a small or boutique producer it must demonstrate that the label is likely to mislead consumers.

So, what do independent wine producers need to do?

The option of taking direct action is expensive and likely to result in a loss of business.  Rather, continuing education will help consumers to identify who is producing the wine they are buying. Producers and industry associations need to arm the consumer, like Little Red Riding Hood, to recognise the differences between grandma and the wolf.

For further information contact Rebecca Halkett, Head of the Food & Agribusiness team.