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What is food fraud?

In everyday consumer-centric life, businesses spare no expense to protect the identity, experience and perception of their brand. However, good-natured missteps and inaccuracies can undermine the very foundation of these efforts.

What is food fraud, what types there are, mitigation options you can put in your business and entrepreneurial strategy today.

Food fraud occurs when statements made as part of a company's branding or marketing strategy conceal information or provide incomplete information. This can happen because of inconsistencies or inappropriate statements made on labels, marketing assets or any element of the customer-facing sales process. This is becoming an increasingly slippery slope to navigate, especially as claims have become so varied and comprehensive.

When developing a business, clear product claims are known. However, with the proliferation of certificates, registrations and food business claims, it can be particularly easy to make a mistake.

Below are some common examples and risks that can lead to different types of deception:


Dilution is commonly seen with liquid products such as oils or blends of any commodity type. It can be used to mix two compounds or to conserve resources by combining the real product with a less expensive alternative that will not be immediately recognisable to the customer.

Direct examples of substitutions identified and reported include:

  • Olive oil:

Although first-pressed olive oil is the industry standard, companies may mix an expensive pure form with a less expensive or lower quality product.

  • Honey, maple syrup or sweeteners:

Although these items can be found in their pure form, companies can mix the regular product formulation with alternative sweeteners to save on costs and logistics labour, including a sugar beet or maize derivative.

  • Juices and beverages:

Often these products contain a percentage of pure product with no impurities in the suspension or blend. You will see that they are sold as a percentage of juice or juice from concentrate. The risk occurs when one of three incidents occurs:

Concentrate is sold incorrectly, making the juice appear more or less thick than it actually is. Sweeteners or diluents are added to the juice mixture to further reduce the cost and labour involved in the original production. Old juice is blended with new batches of juice to minimise food waste, while exposing the consumer to risk when consumed.

Common abuses are nuts, baby formula, seafood and meat.

What are the consequences of food fraud?

At first glance, food fraud may seem like "low risk". In fact, it may even seem sensible or strategic as corporations save money this way. However, the consequences can be serious and even fatal, depending on the nature of the compromise.

  • Consequence: Disruption of the physical condition of the consumer

Certificates and regulations exist for one reason: to ensure maximum consumer safety when consuming food. When food is diluted or compromised, consumers are intentionally harmed, which affects their general well-being.

  • Consequence: Ethical dilemmas and concerns

It is objectively wrong to sell something as a stand-alone or pure product if it is not.

  • Consequence: Long-term damage to the brand

Scandals and stories of dishonesty and fraud can last for quite some time - especially in the age of social media. Whether food fraud occurs intentionally or unintentionally, it can have long-term brand damage that haunts both team members and brands in the industry.

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