COLES has been forced to pay more than $60,000 in fines for "misleading representations" regarding the origin of fresh produce sold in stores across the country.
The fines were imposed by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission after complaints that the supermarket giant displayed imported navel oranges and kiwi fruit under boards reading "Helping Australia Grow", with the triangular "Australian Grown" symbol.
Between March and May this year five stores across Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia and the Australia Capital Territory were found to be using the signs above imported products.
A further survey by the commission found a number of other Coles stores were using the signs to advertise imported asparagus and almonds.
While the ACCC fined Coles $61,200, the commission found no evidence the company had actually deliberately attempted to mislead consumers.
The Australian Made, Australian Grown Campaign regulates the use of the "Australian Grown" logo in Coles and other retailers.
Campaign chief Ian Harrison said he believed it was due to young employees moving new imported stock into areas where Australian grown stock was previously shelved.
Mr Harrison said he had talks with senior executives in Coles, and he understood the company faced an "administrative challenge" to ensure product was appropriately marked.
He said if the AMAG campaign had any evidence the problems were systemic or deliberate he would "not hesitate in taking further action".
But Mr Harrison said it was better for Coles to "pay the fine and close the matter quickly".
A statement from Coles confirmed it paid the fines "as a matter of practical expediency to avoid a lengthy and costly legal action in defending our position".
The Coles statement also said it remained committed to its Helping Australia Grow campaign as well as its claim the retail group sells "96% Australian fresh produce".
The fines come just two weeks after the ACCC began legal action against Coles in the Federal Court, over what it alleged was "deceptive and misleading conduct" regarding par-baked goods.
That action involved the importation of par-baked bread from Ireland, which was frozen then baked in Australian Coles stores before sale to consumers.
The commission alleged Coles' associated advertisements, which said the bread was "freshly baked in store" was misleading to the consumers.
Mr Harrison said as it did not directly involve the AMAG logo, it was not his place to comment.
However, he said it did illustrate problems with the current country-of-origin laws, which the campaign has previously called on the Federal Government to improve.
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