Carrefour called the Brazilian Food Association (Abia) a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” after the company filed a complaint against the multinational with the National Consumer Secretariat (Senacon). The phrase was used in court cases.
The reason for Abia’s complaint was the application Nutri Escolha, promoted by Carrefour since July last year, which classifies food sold on the network as more or less healthy.
In a rare exchange of public contradictions, Carrefour claimed that Abia masqueraded as a consumer advocate in a legal battle against the app to actually protect the interests of its employees.
The multinational also accused Abia of manipulating images with the intention of misleading the National Secretariat of Consumers (Senacon) and delaying the implementation of new frontal labeling legislation in Brazil.
In a note sent to UOL, Abia denies any tampering:
“Abia does not comment on lawsuits in court. However, the allegation of tampering is completely false, as the images supporting the complaint were captured by the network’s own website and application, they were duly registered in a notary’s office in notarial logs. included in the administrative procedure,” the statement said.
In the lawsuit, Abia also criticized Carrefour for promoting “diet Manichaeism” and “deceiving and confusing the consumer” by distributing the application.
In a statement sent to Joio, Carrefour defended Nutri Escolha, saying the motion aims to “enable consumers to be more aware of their purchases and make their food choices easier”.
App promises healthy choices
The Nutri Choice app was launched by Carrefour in July 2021 with the promise of providing consumers with healthier and cheaper choices.
The application uses the Nutri-Score method developed in France, the retailer’s country of origin, and used voluntarily by food manufacturers in that country.
The Nutri Score records the percentage of rapeseed oil, nuts, fruits, vegetables and greens to give the products positive points and the sugar, salt and fat content to check negative points.
Taken together, the points result in a grade from “A” to “E”. The closer to “A”, the healthier. The model was even defended by the Brazilian Nutrology Association during the discussions at Anvisa about the new frontal labeling in Brazil, but was passed over in the end.
In addition to providing reviews, Carrefour’s app also offers users “healthier” or cheaper alternatives within the same category as the product being analyzed.
“Marketing and advertising tool”
Shortly after the app’s debut, Abia filed a complaint with Senacon, calling Nutri Escolha a “marketing and promotional tool.”
In the complaint, the company claimed that Nutri Escolha rated products differently with a similar nutritional profile and that the app favored Carrefour-branded products by suggesting healthier and cheaper options.
Private label products are at the heart of a long-running global arm wrestling between retailers and industry; Among other things, manufacturers claim that networks use these products to lower prices and copy products that are expensive to develop.
According to Carrefour, own-brand products account for 15.3% of total net grocery sales, costing an average of 30% less than market-leading brands.
In 2020, the multinational retailer sold 2,769 own-brand grocery products in Brazil – 600 of which were launched this year alone.
In the complaint filed with Senacon, Abia also argued that Nutri Escolha conflicted with the frontal labeling system approved by Anvisa in 2020 and effective from October this year.
The rule prohibits putting different patterns of labeling on food packaging precisely to prevent conflicting information from confusing the consumer.
Abia also complained that Carrefour required confidential business data from its suppliers on the assumption that it would deliver the application, without transparency regarding the use of the information provided.
The application has been suspended
When asked to comment, Carrefour pointed to a “conflict of interest” in Abia’s complaint, implying that the association would actually be uncomfortable with the low marks given to processed products made by its members.
The company was able to demonstrate that some of its private label products actually received lower ratings than others in the same categories, arguing that no products with high levels of critical ingredients (salt, fat and sugar) received an A and B rating from the apartment .
In a very quick decision, 25 days after filing the complaint, Senacon decided to block the app as it believed Nutri Escolha was misleading the consumer and violating the customer’s right to information.
In the decision, the deputy director of the Department of Consumer Protection and Defense, Fernando Moesch, argued that the app’s algorithm lacked transparency and, by allowing online purchases, the app overlaid the Nutri-Score procedure with the magnifying glass (warning in the label on harmful products). This way, users would not even be able to see the frontal high nutrient warnings provided by the Anvisa-approved labeling scheme.
“[O aplicativo] affects the existing regulatory system and takes over regulatory powers that it does not have,” Moesch writes in the decision.
“Wolf in Sheepskin”
After repeated arguments at Senacon, the company called Abia a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”. The phrase appears in the Mandamus document filed by Carrefour in August last year with the 22nd Civil Court of the Judicial Division of Federal District TRF1.
Carrefour also explained that the company took action against Anvisa’s first attempt in 2010 to create warnings for products with excessive sodium, sugar and fat.
Anvisa tried it back then – via the RDC [resolução de diretoria colegiada] 24/2010 – Advertise foods high in critical ingredients, display warnings warning of risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.
But the initiative was blocked in court by Abia, who argued that Anvisa had no authority to legislate on the issue.
After a verdict in favor of Carrefour in the second instance of the Federal Court, NutriEscolha remains on the air.