Patriotic Poles led astray by mis-labelled Ukrainian cucumbers

WARSAW (Reuters) - Local supermarket Biedronka has been mis-labelling goods including Belgian carrots and Ukrainian cucumbers as home grown, Poland’s anti-monopoly office said on Monday.

The watchdog said Biedronka, part of Portuguese retail group Jeronimo Martins JMT.LS, had labelled the imported vegetables as Polish at a time when many Poles were making "patriotic" shopping choices.

The government has encouraged Poles to buy Polish products to support the local economy during the coronavirus crisis.

Tomasz Chrostny, who heads the anti-monopoly watchdog UOKiK, said consumers had complained that labels in the Biedronka chain stores were misleading as to the country of origin of fruit and vegetables.

“Consumers are increasingly guided by economic patriotism in their choices and are happy to reach for domestic products,” the head of the watchdog said. “False information in Biedronka stores may have distorted their purchasing decisions.”

The watchdog, which is launching an investigation, can impose fines of up to 10% of a company’s annual turnover if its charges are confirmed.

A spokeswoman for Biedronka said the chain would follow up on the watchdog’s arguments.

“We strongly disagree, however, that Biedronka is not giving the right information on country of origin, as we have two main goals in our strategy: to sell Polish products everywhere and always when it is possible, and to give the right information to our customers,” she said in a statement e-mailed to Reuters.

She acknowledged there may have been some temporary labelling errors, including of Polish products as foreign imports, given the high turnover of fruit and vegetables in its stores, but said UOKiK research indicated other retailers were experiencing similar problems.

Jeronimo Martin’s Polish business is also under investigation by the watchdog for unfair dealings with suppliers and for the way it presented prices to clients.

Since coming to power in 2015, Poland’s nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS) has taken various steps to protect domestic businesses. These have included a Sunday trading ban and attempts to impose a retail tax.

Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko; Additional reporting by Anna Koper in Warsaw and Patricia Rua in Lisbon. Editing by Jane Merriman, Kirsten Donovan