The distributor of Nurofen is accused of misleading the public about its specific pain products.
The Commerce Commission has laid 10 charges under the Fair Trading Act against the Reckitt Benckiser New Zealand (RBNZ), which distributes and markets products such as Nurofen, Dettol and Mortein.
The commission said RBNZ has co-operated with the investigation and noted it intends to plead guilty to the charges.
The regulator alleges that the packaging and promotion of four different types of pain-specific products - Nurofen Migrane Pain, Nurofen Tension Headache, Nurofen Period Pain and Nurofen Back Pain - were misleading.
The commission also alleges that the advertisment of these products on RBNZ's website www.nurofen.co.nz was likely to mislead or deceive consumers.
"The Commission alleges that both the website and the packaging of these products gave the overall impression that the products were targeted to provide relief for a specific kind of pain. The Commission alleges this was misleading because the pain specific products contained the same ingredients and were equally effective in treating any of the types of pain specified," the regulator said today.
The company make undertakings with the commission last December where it agreed to re-label pain specific Nurofen products. These were removed from sale by March this year.
RBNZ said in a statement this morning that the products impacted by the case represented less than five per cent of the New Zealand Nurofen range.
"The Nurofen specific-pain range was launched in New Zealand to provide easy navigation of pain-relief within the grocery environment where pharmacy support is not available," it said.
"The packaging of all Nurofen specific-pain products in New Zealand was changed by March this year to make clear that the different products could be used to treat other forms of pain. All Nurofen products which have the same active ingredient, pack-size, format and formulation have the same manufacturer's recommended retail price. Nurofen NZ cannot comment further at this stage as the matter is now before the court," the company said.
The New Zealand action follows the Federal Court of Australia finding that Reckitt Benckiser in that country had engaged in misleading conduct by representing that the Nurofen specific pain products were each formulated to treat a specific type of pain when the products are identical.
Reckitt Benckiser (Australia) was fined $1.7 million in April of this year but the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has filed an appeal against that penalty, with a hearing scheduled for November.