Law on prices by weight has been left on shelf

People living in Malta have spent 10 years deprived of a consumer right which empowers them to compare prices.

According to an EU directive dating back to 1998, products should not only be displayed with their price but also their unit price.

The unit price is defined as the price for one kilogram, one litre, one metre, one square metre or one cubic metre of the goods.

For example, fruit and vegetables are usually sold by unit price calculated on weight. But the prices of pre-packaged goods, such as olive oil or jam, are rarely accompanied by their unit price, making it harder for consumers to compare between different brands and amount variations.

The EU directive on price indications, which was introduced to Maltese law in 2002, stipulates that the unit price be used for nearly all products.

But the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority only plans to start enforcing the law next March, after consultation and more than 10 years after the law was introduced.

Meanwhile, the Maltese law only refers to “pre-packaged goods, including foodstuffs, sold in pre-established or variable quantities” – an inter­pretation the Consumers’ Association disagrees with.

In fact, the Consumers’ Association has written to the European Commission to report the Maltese authorities.

The association said it was “un­acceptable” for the authority to open a consultation period 10 years after the law was introduced.

It also said that the law should be amended to better reflect the EU directive and not limit the use of unit prices to pre-packaged goods.

“By way of example, we have been insisting that the price of bread should also display the unit price (price per kilogram) rather than simply displaying the final price. The MCCAA has been arguing that the legal notice only requires that the final price should be displayed and does not require that the unit price be also displayed.”

Only Lidl outlets were obeying the unit price indicators, according to association president Benny Borg Bonello. They did so even when it came to bread, he added.

Some pre-packed food, like cheese, is sometimes also displayed with the unit price, but many times it is written in such a small font that it is barely legible, he said. Questioned about the Consumers’ Association’s complaints, Consumers Minister Jason Azzopardi said the consultation period was not intended to re-open discussion on the regulation but to meet stakeholders and understand how the implementation of this regulatory regime will affect small outlets.

“All retail outlets would have to work out and exhibit the unit pricing (price per kg, or price per litre etc) of all the items in the shop/outlet. MCCAA will be meeting also wholesalers as it prefers that these unit prices will be provided by the wholesaler themselves wherever possible.”

The MCCAA was set up last year and the issue of unit pricing was one of the major priorities. EU funds have been obtained to carry out an awareness campaign.

Dr Azzopardi refused to say whether the laws had to be improved, saying only that the process had been initiated for all sectors to be in line with current regulations.


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