Dole persists with 'ethical choice' banana marketing

JENNY KEOWN
Last updated 05:00 19/08/2012
Seven-year-old Lily Tounge with some of Dole’s bananas
PETER MEECHAM/Fairfax NZ
INFORMED CHOICE? Seven-year-old Lily Tounge with some of Dole’s bananas still carrying the ‘‘ethical choice’’ stickers last week.

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Fruit importer Dole is still putting "ethical choice" stickers on its bananas, despite a rap over the knuckles from the Commerce Commission.

The competition watchdog sent a compliance letter to Dole in June warning the company it might be at risk of a Fair Trading Act breach, after complaints its ethical choice stickers on bananas and pineapples were misleading.

Among the concerns was whether consumers might think the stickers were certified by a third party, and make the company appear more ethical than its competitors.

After complaints about whether the ethical choice claim stacked up via three claimed certifications, the commission warned Dole it might be at risk of breaching the act by referencing ISO90002 and SA 8000 standards in its marketing and on its website. Companies can be fined up to $200,000 for breaching the act.

The commission also said it thought the ethical choice claim could be interpreted as though it had been certified by a third party, when it hadn't, and that it had the potential to be interpreted as a comparative claim that Dole was more ethical than its competitors.

Dole has since told the commission it had fixed references to the standards it was concerned about, and removed potentially misleading point of sale marketing from stores. The commission decided to take no further action, even though ethical choice stickers remain on fruit on shop shelves.

Dole didn't respond to calls from the Sunday Star-Times.

It supplies Phillipines-sourced bananas to New World and Pak'nSave.

Last week New World supermarkets in Auckland's Birkenhead and Victoria Park had ethical choice Dole bananas on sale. Shoppers appeared confused by what the stickers meant. Of the five shoppers spoken to, three said they thought the sticker was genuine. One thought it meant the company treated its plantation workers well, and another had it mixed up with Fairtrade.

Birkenhead New World shopper Juanita Nilson said she thought the ethical choice sticker meant the company was well-run, and treated plantation workers well. Lee Wolfendale said she chose bananas that were decent and firm, and it's “always good to see the sticker on there".

At Victoria Park New World a shopper who asked not to be named said the sticker had been marketed well. "People know and understand it, you know through coffee and chocolate and other products." Told he was mistaking the ethical choice label for Fairtrade, he said "I didn't realise."

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New Zealand-owned All Good Bananas founder Chris Morrison said the company began to bring in Fairtrade bananas from Ecuador in Feburary 2010. Within a few months, Dole launched the ethical choice scheme, but he understood the California-based company used the labels only in New Zealand.

Fairtrade operations manager Barnaby Luff said bananas were the only product it certified where there was another ethical label also being used. "I'm disappointed Kiwis are still confused."

He said shoppers were often pressed for time, but could be assured the blue and green Fairtrade logo meant the product was independently certified. Fairtrade certification meant farmers and workers in developing countries received fair and stable minimum prices.

- Sunday Star Times

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