SUGARY children’s snacks, school banking programs and a $189 toaster that can’t make toast have been named among the year’s worst products by consumer group Choice.
Portable cots that put babies at risk of suffocation, a sleep-aid vitamin supplement little better than a placebo and “magnetic healing” devices based on pseudoscience have also been shamed in the 13th annual Shonkys.
The awards recognise products “giving Australians a bad deal”, Choice chief executive Alan Kirkland said in a statement.
“Our seven 2018 winners follow a long tradition of highlighting why we need to hold companies to account for their bad behaviour and why we need stronger laws to protect Australians,” he said.
“The attitudes and practices of this year’s winners show exactly why we need the Federal Government to take action on greater safety standards, clearer food labelling and better banking regulations.”
Choice said the three big winners this year were CommBank’s Dollarmites, Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain ‘To Go’ range and portacots sold by major retailers including Big W, Kmart, Baby Bunting and Target, nearly all of which failed key safety tests.
“Since 2011 we’ve looked at 60 different portacots, and worryingly the vast majority failed to meet our minimum safety standard,” Mr Kirkland said.
“Out of the 12 newer models of cot we recently reviewed, only two passed our major safety tests, with the others posing serious safety hazards. We’ve found mattresses that aren’t firm enough to provide a safe sleep surface, and gaps around the side that could trap a child’s head.
“It’s unacceptable that there are so many of these products on the market putting children’s lives at risk. If a portacot can pose a suffocation risk to a baby and still meet the legal mandatory requirements, these laws need to change.”
Mr Kirkland said most Australians were surprised to learn that businesses “don’t have to make sure the products they sell are safe”.
“We need a General Safety Provision in Australia,” he said.
Only Big W recalled its Dymples portacot after it failed Choice’s safety checks. The consumer group is calling for other manufacturers it failed to pull their products.
They include Baby Bunting (B4baby), Babyco, Babyhood, Baby Bjorn, Kmart (Baby Solutions), Childcare, Elite Baby, Joie, Love N Care, Phil&Teds, Steelcraft, Target and Vee Bee.
Meanwhile, consumer groups have called for CommBank to ditch Dollarmites.
The school marketing program, by some estimates worth $10 billion in long-term value to the bank, has come under fire in recent months for perceived dodgy tactics, including hefty payments to schools to sign kids up and bank staff fraudulently activating accounts to earn bonuses.
“Over the last year we have seen repeated scandals that show banks take advantage of loyal customers,” Consumer Action Law Centre CEO Gerard Brody said in a statement.
“We can no longer trust banks to teach children about the financial system. Instead we need to be teaching children to avoid the high costs and bad practices we keep seeing from the big banks.”
Financial Counselling Australia CEO Fiona Guthrie said schools should deliver independent financial literacy programs and called on CommBank to sponsor “genuinely brand-free education initiatives”.
“We need to ask, what lessons does the Commonwealth Bank have to teach our children?” Financial Rights Legal Centre co-ordinator Karen Cox said.
“Based on what we’ve seen from the royal commission into financial services, the major banks know very little about treating customers fairly.”
Kellogg’s, for its part, has been accused of “health-washing” its Nutri-Grain snack.
Choice said the Banana & Honey Smash To Go squeezer was marketed as a protein-filled breakfast substitute, but was full of sugar and contained less protein than Greek yoghurt. It contains 14.7g of sugar, compared with just 5.6g of protein.
“Kelloggs is telling young people this shonky snack will make them ‘feel fuller for longer with protein’ but what they don’t highlight is how much sugar they’ve squeezed in to this poor option for breakfast,” Choice spokeswoman Nicky Breen said.
The winners have been contacted for comment.
THE 2018 SHONKYS WINNERS
• Portable cots
“When Choice tested portable cots, we found that the vast majority failed our stringent safety tests. Alarmingly, most of the products we tested pose a risk of either suffocation or head entrapment (or both) to babies. 4baby, Babyco, Babyhood, Baby Bjorn, Baby Solutions, Childcare, Elite Baby, Joie, Love N Care, Phil&Teds, Steelcraft, and Target and Vee Bee are among the manufacturers whose portacots Choice wants to see recalled.”
“CommBank’s Dollarmite school marketing program mixes unchecked corporate greed with primary schools. Employing subversive sales tactics under the guise of youth education is a particularly disgraceful act, worthy of collecting the bank a Shonky. Who can weasel its way into our schools? CommBank can.”
• Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain
“The original ‘Ironman Food’ creator claims its new ‘To Go’ range is ‘perfect for young Aussies on the go’. When we discovered the Nutri-Grain Banana & Honey Smash Protein Squeezer contains a whopping 14.7g of sugar per packet in contrast to the 5.6g of protein it so heavily promotes, Nutri-Grain’s association with elite athletes became a little hard to swallow.
“The KitchenAid 2-Slice KMT2116 toaster will set you back $189, but it won’t make toast. Choice tests showed all it served up was dry, slightly warm bread. There are better ways to make a statement in your kitchen than buying this pricey paperweight. For sending money up in smoke, KitchenAid takes home a Shonky.”
“For the second year in a row Bioglan have taken out a Shonky for some questionable claims on their products. Despite spruiking its ability to ‘relieve mild temporary insomnia and symptoms of mild nervous tension’ Bioglan melatonin homoeopathic sleep formula contains only trace amounts of the drug and is little more than a placebo.”
• Marriott Timeshare
“Marriott Vacation Club International’s timeshare deal requires you to buy into a 40-year contract that could, based on Choice calculations, see you spend nearly half a million dollars over the course of the contract — around 10 times the amount it would cost to simply book a holiday when you needed to. For ripping people off who just want to take a break, Marriott Vacation Club joins this year’s winners’ circle.”
• Magnetic therapy devices
“Magnetic therapy devices from brands such as Dick Wicks and BioMagnetic Sport promise to relieve pain, but with no evidence to back up these claims, the only thing they’ll relieve you of is money. The brands behind these devices dish out dodgy medical advice and charge a small fortune for their products.”
SHONKY WINNER RESPONSES
CommBank executive GM retail Mark Jones: “We wish to respond to some of the media coverage and criticism around our in-school financial literacy programs.
“Our School Banking program has been running in Australian schools for 87 years, and we are proud to have been able to help children develop good savings habits since 1931.
“Firstly, participation in the School Banking program is completely voluntary for schools, and their parents. The program is widely supported by P&C committees and currently is run by a 10,000 strong parent-based volunteer network.
“The bank does not charge fees or market credit products to customers under 18 years old. As part of the School Banking program, students receive a savings account which they can deposit money into.
“In addition, CommBank makes a payment to schools based on the number of participating students, and the frequency of their deposits.
“The purpose of these payments has always been to compensate for the administration of the program and the dedicated time of the volunteers. In most cases these payments generally go towards school sporting equipment or books in the school library.
“So far this year, schools received $380 on average. The purpose of the School Banking program is to encourage regular savings habits, and increase financial literacy around the country.
“CBA provides two different in-school programs, being Start Smart and School Banking.
“Start Smart is a free financial educational program that provides engaging and interactive workshops to primary and secondary students and is the largest program of its kind in the world.
“Start Smart does not promote CommBank products or services of any kind, and its facilitators are independent of the bank and not employed by CBA. We believe that teaching children about money is a critical part of helping young people develop the skills they need to do well in the future.”
Babyhood CEO Farzanah Ally: “The Babyhood portacot has been tested by an independent internationally accredited test facility and has successfully passed the mandatory Australian Standard for folding cots.
“Choice Magazine’s own test results also confirm that the babyhood portacot passes the mandatory Australian Standard. Babyhood remains confident that our portacot is safe, which is confirmed by Choice Magazine’s own testing in 2018 and earlier in 2010.
“Babyhood is disappointed that Choice Magazine has incorrectly included our portacot in this article, as Choice Magazine’s own testing confirms that our portacot is absolutely compliant to the mandatory Australian Standard. We have tried to contact Choice Magazine for comment on the incorrect information that they have published, but we have been unable to reach them.”
Barton Brands MD Aaron Barton: “BioMagnetic Sports offer a natural alternative to the conventional methods that may result in the relief of pain. We do not make any promises to relieve pain.
“We are also very aware that there are both positive and negative responses to magnetic therapy. For this reason, we do a number of things to ensure our message is clear and not misleading.
“We work closely with the Therapeutic Goods Administration to ensure we are not making any false medical claims. Our TGA registration is frequently updated and our packaging is checked for any false or unsupported medical claims.
“We offer a 28-day money back guarantee. This way consumers are able to try our product risk free. If they don’t see any positive results after this time frame, we give them a full refund.
“For these reasons we feel our product is not a suitable candidate for the Shonky Award, as our goal is not to mislead but rather to help. We have had countless positive testimonies from happy customers.”