Cutting through the bullshit.

Thursday, 29 March 2007

Twice the vitamin G!

Tuesday’s Guardian reported two 14 year old schoolgirls at Auckland’s Pakuranga College found in their 2004 science project that Ribena only contains a trace amount of vitamin C.

Students Anna Devathasan and Jenny Suo tested the blackcurrant cordial against rival brands to test their hypothesis that cheaper brands were less healthy.

…Given Ribena's advertising claims that "the blackcurrants in Ribena have four times the vitamin C of oranges", they were astonished and wrote to the manufacturers, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). When they got no response, they phoned the company, but were given short shrift…

But then the girls' claims were picked up by a TV consumer affairs programme, Fair Go, which suggested they take their findings to the commerce commission, a government watchdog.

GSK said the girls had tested the wrong product, and it was concentrated syrup which had four times the vitamin C of oranges. But when the commerce commission investigated, it found that although blackcurrants have more vitamin C than oranges, the same was not true of Ribena. It also said ready-to-drink Ribena contained no detectable level of vitamin C.

GSK is in court in Auckland today facing 15 charges relating to misleading advertising, risking fines of up to NZ$3m (£1.1m).

Even though Anna Devathasan and Jenny Suo discovered the discrepancy in 2004, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission website reported in a 21 March media release

"It has self-reported the discrepancies to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and provided court enforceable undertakings," ACCC Chairman, Mr Graeme Samuel said today.

They got caught trying to defraud consumers and the ACCC calls it ‘self-reported’. Meanwhile, GSK has made undertakings to the ACCC, among other things, to

* stop making any express or implied representation that Ribena fruit drinks contain four times the Vitamin C of orange juice products

* stop making any express or implied representation that Ribena fruit drinks contain more Vitamin C than orange juice products, unless this claim can be substantiated

* publish notices on Ribena websites advising consumers of the allegedly misleading representations, and

* review, and implement recommended changes to, its trade practices law compliance program.

GSK Australia has also undertaken to publish an article for industry on the importance of being accurate when making representations to consumers. It will express "the importance of companies who become aware of potential false or misleading representations voluntarily approaching the ACCC so that they can work cooperatively to resolve the issue.

However, the GSK website still makes these claims

Ribena has traditionally been a rich source of Vitamin C because weight for weight, blackcurrants contains more than four times the Vitamin C of oranges.

Each recommended serving of either diluted or Ready-To-Drink Ribena provides all the Vitamin C you need each day – 100% of the Recommended Daily Allowance.

while trumpeting the Ribena ‘Brand Values’

Sometimes a brand can be more than a product. It can be a part of life. Ribena is one of those products. It is one of the healthiest options for every child, young and old. The brand also has a unique emotional aura.

The emotional reward that comes from the giving (for mothers) and receiving (for children) of maternal nurturing, care and warmth. After all, if you want the best for your child, you should only give him/her the best.

So, in light of GSK’s willing cooperation with the ACCC, now we’ll see how ‘this is taken into account when determining what further action is appropriate.’

[Thanks to James of apolitical info for drawing this story to my attention.]


  1. Meet Larry Liebena


  2. GSK has an out. If you look at the URL, you'll see the lies about Ribena are on their Malaysian site. The GSK undertakings to the ACCC didn't cover other sites.

    When I searched GSK's Australian site, they weren't spruiking Ribena's benefits. They also weren't displaying the notice they said they would. For that, you need to read the undertaking carefully. It said they would " publish notices on Ribena websites advising consumers of the allegedly misleading representations". Note the emphasis. And, lo & behold, there is now a specific web site, fulfilling the undertaking - and containing no other information. Anything to stop GSK's reputation being contaminated.

    And anything to prevent GSK being forced to stop lying in other countries where they reckon they can continue to get away with it.