Shonky Awards 2014: CHOICE Shames Australia's Worst Products

Earlier today, Lifehacker attended CHOICE's 9th annual Shonky Awards, where Australia's most misleading, shoddy and unsafe products are named and shamed. From rip-off bank accounts for kidds to self-disintegrating cosies, these are the dodgiest Australian products of 2014.

For the past nine years, consumer watchdog CHOICE has been doling out the dreaded "Shonky Awards" — an anti-prize for Australia's worst products and services. Each Shonky recipient is either misleading, dangerous or of particularly bad value to consumers.

"When CHOICE started the Shonkys eight years ago, it was probably on the hope that they would run for a few years and that we'd ultimately run out of material," CHOICE's CEO Alan Kirkland said at the event.

"Sadly, there's no shortage of examples of businesses that need to do better. When we put out the call to the public this year we were swamped by the number of nominations."

Dishonourable mentions

Each year, CHOICE highlights a few "almost-rans" that weren't quite terrible enough to make the Shonky shortlist. (Better luck next year, eh?)

Fantastic "Gluten Free" Rice Crackers

Like most snack foods that fulfill a specific dietary requirement, Fantastic's gluten-free rice crackers carry a pretty hefty premium. What the company refrains from telling you is that its regular rice crackers contain no gluten either. In the words of Shonky host Kate Browne; "what you're paying for is a bigger font on the packaging."

Coles "Fresh Baked" Bread

As we previously reported, Coles was recently busted for misleading customers about the freshness of its bread. The Australian Federal Court found that certain bread products advertised by Coles as “freshly baked in store” were sometimes produced months previously in other countries. The supermarket giant has subsequently been banned from promoting baked-then-frozen bread as "fresh" for three years.

The Finalists

This year's awards garnered more nominations from the public than ever before, with an emphasis on deliberately misleading marketing and products that weren't fit to purpose. Here are the "winners" in full.

Commonwealth Bank

The Commonwealth Bank made international headlines this year for a financial planning scandal that saw numerous customers lose their life savings. While these unethical ­practices were bad enough, it was CBA's response that saw it win a Shonky. After a long delay in acknowledging fault, the bank lobbied to remove financial advice protections from consumers while simultaneously launching a slick PR campaign to limit the damage to its reputation. Tch.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

One of the advantages of Amazon's Kindle ereaders are their superior battery life compared to most electronic gadgets; a fact that's prominently highlighted in the marketing material. However, it turns out that some of these claims are more than a little bit dubious. In a recent advert for the Kindle Paperwhite, Amazon boasted that the device's battery lasted for eight weeks in-between charges. However, the small print revealed that the figure was based on a daily usage pattern of just 30 minutes. As CHOICE points out, this is like a lollipop that claims it lasts a whole month, but only if you lick it once per day.

Arnott's peanut butter flavour Tim Tams

When a biscuit is being marketed as "peanut butter flavoured" there's a reasonable expectation that it might contain peanuts. Instead, the chief ingredient in Arnott's Peanut Butter Tim Tams is paprika. In addition, the peanut butter version comes with two fewer biscuits, despite being identically priced and using the same sized packaging. Not cool.

S26 Gold Toddler and Junior powdered milk

S26 received a Shonky award for guilt-tripping parents into buying a wholly unnecessary product for their kids. The company openly encouraged retailers to "keep mums buying" with its extended range of formula products for toddlers and older children. However, the vast majority of nutritionists agree that formula isn't necessary for children over the age of one.

BankWest

Most banks try to limit their penny-pinching when it comes to accounts aimed at children. It seems BankWest didn't get the memo. For its Kids' Bonus Saver account, the bank enforces a minimum monthly deposits of $25 to ensure higher interest payments stay out of reach of most pre-school customers. In addition, Bankwest offers kids an interest rate of 5.75% in the first year of joining up, but only 1% thereafter (savings are automatically transferred to a low-interest account 12 months after joining up.) Its mascot should be Scrooge McDuck.

Kmart swimwear

With the weather heating up, plenty of Aussies have been heading to Kmart to snap up a cheap cosie. What they probably don't realise is that their new swimwear carries a range of highly restrictive disclaimers. Things to avoid include water (moisture makes them see-through), suntan lotions (this degrades the material) and heated pools or spas. In other words, they're basically useless for anything other than sun baking.

Thermomix

The furore surrounding Thermomix's sneaky product upgrade is unprecedented: it received more Shonky nominations from the public than any other product in the history of the awards. Customers who forked out for the high-end kitchen appliance were dismayed to see a new model on store shelves mere days after making their purchase. There was absolutely no warning that the product was about to be superseded. Click here for the full story.


If you were a victim of one of the above companies, it’s not too late to let your displeasure be known — you can cast your vote for the "People’s Choice" Shonky at CHOICE’s website. The winner will be announced at a later date. Naturally, you can also register your displeasure by sending the offending company a public message on Twitter.


Comments

    Actually, I really like the peanut butt- er, paprika Tim Tams. The fact that they contain no actual peanuts strikes me as secondary to the fact that they taste good. The smaller packaging is a pain, though.

      I think it's been well established Australia wide they they taste damn awful (and nothing at all like peanut butter.)

        I always find it a bit suss when I see the word 'flavour'. E.g. "Orange flavour biscuits", only to find they contain no actual orange. Even still I think it's reasonable to expect real orange and I won't buy such products.

        If it actually had peanut butter than it would be "Peanut butter Tim Tam" rather than "Peanut butter flavour Tim Tam". Sadly flavourings can be natural and even made from the named product or completely artificial. The manufacturers seem to assume they can avoid misleading conduct charges by using the word 'flavour' if its the later. I'm not sure if this has actually been challenged in court though.

          A bit like "fruit drinks" which typically contain something like 30% fruit juice.

          Or "pineapple slices in juice" which use *pear* juice. (Ergo much higher in fructose, which matters for some people.)

        I like them. My wife did not.

        We both agreed that the Red Velvet Cake Tim Tams are OFF THE CHAIN SON!

      Are you kidding? They taste like someone farted in my mouth.

        And you already knew what a fart tasted like before you tried those Tim Tams? Eewwww.

          I see someone's never had brothers. :)

            I do, a younger one. But even he's been lucky enough to have never tasted my fart. Come to think of it, perhaps this should be an item on the list of things to do this weekend. Thanks!

      Not a big fan of them at all...worst Tim Tams I've ever eaten.

      I thought all non-standard Tim-Tams (Double Coat, Chewy Caramel etc) came with only 9 per pack compared to a standard 11.

    The gluten free crackers are hilarious. Anyone stupid enough to buy them deserves to be lightened of their money anyway.

      Yes those stupid fools who can't have gluten should be used to being gouged by now.

      Do you really want to blame the consumer for a companies attempts to deceive them. Why aren't you yelling at the people who purchased Peanut Butter Tim Tams in the same sized packet and found them 2 biscuits lighter? Surely they should have read the weights on the packet, maybe opened up a few in Coles/Woolworths and weighed them in the produce section.

      Also on the Kindle Paperwhite, it lasts a lot longer if you turn off the backlight. 30 mins a day becomes 30 minutes of updating the page a day. That's why mine did last nearly 2 months, but now I use the Backlight and get 2-3 weeks.

        people who I have known who can't have gluten are actually aware of what products have gluten and which don't especially something as common as crackers this is marketed at those people who are hipsters saying they cant have gluten because they think its the in thing to do so.

        You realise that the whole gluten intolerance thing has been proven to be false right?

        Regardless, brilliant marketing and making more money from stupid people is great.

          Oh source on the gluten thing please. Have a "gluten intolerant" person that drives me nuts that I would like to show it to.

          Proven false you say? Have you any links to support your claims?

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coeliac_disease
          Here's my link supporting my claims there are people who shouldn't eat Gluten. Personally I expect anybody who has a problem with Gluten to check with a Doctor not just say it. As for anecdotal evidence, I know a person who always had stomach pains until they eliminated Gluten from their diet (On Doctor's Advice) and now they never get them unless they eat something with Gluten in.

          But once again please show me some proof.

            grantguest was probably referring to non-Celiac gluten intolerance which is a separate entity to Celiac disease and was debunked by by Peter Gibson and his crew at Monash University. Here's a link to his pubmed article:
            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23648697
            I think (and I'm assuming here) he's mocking the people who self label themselves as having gluten intolerance without a confirmation of a diagnosis from a medical professional. While I believe most adults are free to do what they want, restricting yourself from such a common protein is expensive (I think on the Checkout they said it costs $1000? more per year in food costs? I am probably wrong) and probably stupid. Then again a colleague told me couple of months ago (but after the article came out) that they were gluten sensitive, I decided to shut my mouth at that point because I didn't want to offend them but hey this is the internet and I'm not using my real name.
            Bonus points, he also discovered the disease (non-Celiac gluten intolerance that is, Celiac disease or non-tropical sprue is real and has been described since ancient Roman times) in 2011.
            EDIT: ancient Greece, not Roman. I'm obviously not a historian.

            Last edited 14/10/14 10:26 pm

              I'm a little boggled that you had trouble keeping a civil tongue with your colleague.
              Are they ignoring a negative diagnosis?
              Is $1000 per year going to break them?
              (Do you believe the $1000 figure?)

              In any case, surely the right response was simply to diplomatically suggest that getting it diagnosed would be a healthy thing to do?

              In the mean-time their purchases are helping improve the availability and affordability of foods that legitimately sick people need, which isn't a very efficient means of charity, but also doesn't seem a terrible waste.

          Erm, try being Coeliac and see how you go after eating some bread.

          This is the true cost of the whole 'anti gluten' fad. People in their backlash are forgetting that Ceoliac Disease is absolutely real and absolutely debilitating.

            There's a surprising variety available if you keep an eye out, but the number of things that have gluten in them where you would not expect it is incredible. Why does soy sauce, a product supposedly derived from (gluten-free) soy in a region (eastern asia) where gluten-free cereals are relatively underconsumed, normally contain gluten? That in turn cuts out many pre-prepared "Asian" sauces.

            I've tried telling people who claimed to be "gluten intolerant" the facts of life but they couldn't be convinced. I've read that many such are actually FODMAP intolerant and that since many gluten-free foods are low in FODMAPs a gluten-free diet helps indirectly...

            Coeliac is a real problem. Those who claim to be gluten-intolerant who are not are a mixed blessing for coeliacs; the larger market means there's more variety available, but the standards are lower than what a Coeliac needs (with a sensitivity threshold in micrograms).

    I want even aware of thermomix until news.com.au ran it as there top story for what seemed like 2 days and I still don't know what it does.

      all I know is that it can be used to make big mac sauce but its a bit of a pricy big mac sauce maker

        They make pretty awesome frozen alcoholic drinks.. My friend got one as a wedding present, it does some pretty epic stuff. But personally I wouldn't drop 2k on a mixer.

    Nice to see Commonwealth Bank get a mention twice, since they actually own BankWest.

    Ah, corporate capitalism. Screw the consumer and, if caught, pay the minuscule fine and keep on carrying on.

    Not a food item, but still heavily marketed at the "Big Two" ... Panadol and Nurofen. Which are just bog-standard paracetamol and ibuprofen (respectively) in fancy packaging. But somehow entitles a 400 - 500% markup vs the generics.

    The Checkout did a piece on this ... see Youtube etc.

    Last edited 15/10/14 9:46 am

    Is there a bit more to that thermomix story? I don't see what obligation the company has to announce that they have an upcoming upgraded product. Yes, sucks to be you if you'd just gotten one the day before the newer version was released, but unless it makes your one fall apart by the sheer presence of the upgraded product, I'm finding it difficult to see what's so shady about the practice. Unusual perhaps, but not shady.

      I more or less agree, but I suppose it's tough to be philosophical about it when you've just dropped $2k on a fancy kitchen appliance.

      They're not actually any worse off, but I can't blame them for *feeling* shafted.

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