GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), manufacturer of iconic English thirst-quencher Ribena, has been squeezed before an Auckland (NZ) court for misleading consumers about the levels of vitamin C in the local version of its blackcurrant drink.
The company admitted to the Auckland District Court that it misled customers about the vitamin C content contained in Ribena.
GSK also said it may have led consumers up the garden path in advertisements saying that blackcurrants in Ribena had four times the vitamin C of oranges.
Judge Phil Gittos fined GSK $217,500 for 15 breaches of the Fair Trading Act. The company also has to place corrective advertisements in New Zealand's four largest regional newspapers outlining the exact vitamin C content of each of its Ribena products.
The charges, brought by the Commerce Commission, were the result of an investigation by two Auckland schoolgirls, then aged 14, who carried out the tests in 2004 as part of a school science project.
They tested the blackcurrant cordial against rival juices to find out which contained the most vitamin C.
Though Ribena's advertising campaign claims that "the blackcurrants in Ribena have four times the vitamin C of oranges", the girls found that each 100ml of Ribena contained only 22mg of vitamin C.
Just Juice products contained levels of about 72mg.
The girls complained to GSK, but after being fobbed off and told merely that "it's the blackcurrants have have it [vitamin C]", consumer affairs show Fair Go suggested they approach the Commerce Commission.
The commission's investigation found that although blackcurrants have more vitamin C than oranges, Ribena did not. It also found that cartoned 'Ready to Drink' Ribena, which claimed to have 7mg of vitamin C per 100g, had no detectable vitamin C at all.
According to Stuff.co.nz, commission lawyer Nick Flanagan said: "Many parents have been persuaded over many years that the product is healthy and good for children. In fact, the 'Ready to Drink' Ribena is high in sugar, more in fact than Coca Cola."
GSK Australia has also fessed to misleading advertising.
The Guardian reports that GSK said in a statement that the vitamin C concerns only affected products in Australia and New Zealand. "GSK has conducted thorough laboratory testing of vitamin C levels in Ribena in all other markets. This testing has confirmed that Ribena drinks in all other markets, including the UK, contain the stated levels of vitamin C, as prescribed on product labels." ®