Poland's consumer watchdog, UOKiK, has fined Portuguese retail group Jerónimo Martins more than 60 million zlotys (€13.2 million) for reportedly labelling fruit and vegetables as grown in Poland when they were imported.
UOKiK said consumers who made 'patriotic' choices had been misled, at a time when the government has been encouraging Poles to buy Polish products to support the economy during the coronavirus crisis.
It said that it had found evidence of this alleged mislabelling in 27.8% of stores that it visited.
In response, Jerónimo Martins Polska, which operates the Biedronka chain, said that it 'strongly opposed' the claims being made by UOKiK, stating, 'The evidence in this case was not collected in an objective manner and its quality and completeness raise serious reservations.'
It has said that it will appeal against the decision, considering it 'disproportionate and discriminatory'.
It suggested that the number of alleged infringements was 'marginal', and amongst the lowest in the Polish marketplace, raising 'serious doubts as to the impartiality of UOKiK'. It also noted that it has reduced the number of labelling errors across its stores by close to three quarters since UOKiK's previous round of inspections.
'[UOKiK's] inspection also showed that as many as 58% of Biedronka stores did not report a single labeling error,' the retailer added.
UOKiK launched proceedings against the Portuguese owner of Biedronka in May 2020, saying consumers had been misled by products such as Belgian carrots and Ukrainian cucumbers being labelled as home grown.
"In Biedronka stores, consumers who wanted to buy Polish potatoes, tomatoes or apples were often misled," UOKiK president Tomasz Chrostny said in a statement. "These violations were systemic and long-lasting."
UOKiK said the trade inspectorate had found in late 2019, as well as in 2020 and in February 2021, that information on the country of origin of fruit and vegetables differed on signs in shops from those on the delivery packaging or documents.
In December, Jerónimo Martins hit out at a separate UOKiK charge that the retailer had engaged in abuse of power in its dealings with suppliers.
News by Reuters, additional reporting by ESM. For more Supply Chain stories, click here. Click subscribe to sign up to ESM: European Supermarket Magazine.