Stark Naked Foods Ltd has been fined over £28,000 after misleading the public with false labelling claims since 2007.
The business, which is run by its two directors Victoria Starke and her husband Marcus Welch, was fined a total of £22,000 for Food Safety Act offences for misleading labelling claims.
It was also ordered to pay £1500 for Consumer Protection offences relating to false claims on the companies website and fined £5000 in prosecution costs.
The company pleaded guilty at Ipswich Magistrates’ Court to a total of 14 separate charges.
Stark Naked Foods Ltd, based in Eye, Suffolk, produced a major supermarkets own brand of basil pesto as well eight different varieties of their own ‘Stark Naked’ brand pestos. The pestos were sold nationally via major supermarket chains and on-line.
Suffolk Trading Standards took the decision to prosecute the company after it ignored repeated advice on food labelling matters on issues which could both mislead consumers about what they were buying and result in the company gaining an unfair competitive advantage.
Officers identified several false claims on the labelling.
The supermarket own brand pesto, produced by the company, claimed to be made with Grana Padano cheese, which has Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status and must be produced in Northern Italy.
However, the investigation found that they had cut their costs by using a cheaper cheese produced in Latvia.
The ingredients list also claimed that the product was made with extra virgin olive oil, but some of this oil was actually substituted with cheaper sunflower oil.
Their pestos also claimed to be fresh, but in reality they had been frozen in big batches.
The company claimed; ‘We like local farmers, they’re friendly’.
However, the herbs which characterise the pesto were actually sourced from as far a field as Israel and Colombia.
The company also admitted that their claim; ‘We always state where our herbs are from on our packs’ was untrue.
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.
“In doing this they would of course have made it very difficult for any companies producing similar goods to have competed with them.
“This is a classic case of our trading standards service taking action to maintain a ‘level playing field’ for business in the County.
“We want to reassure the public that we are working hard to maintain the high standards and reputation 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 ignore the advice they have been given in order to commit food fraud.”
For all the latest news see tomorrow’s (Thursday, November 29) Echo.