Italian confectionery maker Ferrero – producer of the famous Nutella spread – won on 2 June a court case against Dutch retailer Delhaize over its claims that its palm oil-free Choco spread was “healthier” and more environmentally friendly.

The ruling did not prevent Delhaize from claiming the health benefits, which feature prominently on its packaging, but the court found that an ad campaign launched by Delhaize in 2015 was “deceitful and misleading”, RetailDetail wrote on 6 June.

Deeming that the health and environmental claims were “unverifiable and therefore not objective”, the Brussels Court of Appeals said Delhaize must immediately stop its ad campaign or risk a €250,000 fine (US$280,000).

The judge also upheld an earlier decision from 2015 stating that Delhaize could not specify that its product contained chocolate, but it could keep the Choco name as the term was “commonly used by the general public”.

Ferrero welcomed the court’s decision in a statement and said it represented a “significant step in contributing to the circulation of impartial information”.

“The court sustained Ferrero’s arguments that it is illegal to claim that a product without palm oil is de facto better for the environment and has better nutritional qualities than one containing palm oil,” the company said.

Luca Bucchini, a food law expert and managing director of Hylobates Consulting, told Confectionery News that the ruling sent a message that those looking to make palm oil-free claims had better be careful.

“[They must make] sure that there is strong evidence for all of the claims, considering certified palm oil as a possible comparator. Certainly, the case shows that you can’t just shoot carelessly in palm oil. Marketers need to talk to their technical, regulatory and legal people before releasing a campaign,” he said.

Delhaize told Confectionery News that the company “respects but regrets” the court decision.

“We do not have to change anything on the packaging or ingredients in the products. The bottom line is this ruling will not have any impact on the customer,” the company said.

Delhaize is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, which prohibits its members from implying that removing palm oil is a preferable alternative to using sustainable palm oil, but the group has struggled to keep its members in line on this point.

In early 2017, Ferrero launched a publicity campaign defending its use of palm oil in response to claims that contaminants found in palm oil could impact on human health.