Supermarket giant Tesco has been fined £300,000 for misleading the public over a half-price offer on punnets of strawberries.
The company was ordered to pay the fine at Birmingham Crown Court after admitting misleading customers in 2011 by claiming punnets of British strawberries were half price for a longer period of time than they were sold at a higher amount.
In a prosecution brought by Birmingham City Council's trading standards department, Tesco admitted offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations Act 2008, the authority said today.
The case found that during various dates in summer 2011, Tesco sold 400g punnets of British strawberries marked as half price at £1.99, with the previous prices of £2.99 and £3.99 crossed out.
The offer ran for 14 weeks, whereas its original higher price of £3.99 was available for a shorter length of time. Under the pricing practices guide, the lower price sale should not last longer than the time the higher price was available.
The retail giant then created a further offer for 400g punnets of British strawberries, which were on sale at £1.99 including a pot of cream - marked "£1.99 free fresh single cream 150ml", the council said.
The offer had no mention of a previous price and the strawberries were then back on sale at £1.99 without the pot of cream, with the indication that they were again half price.
The council said both offers were presented in a way that misled or was likely to deceive the average consumer.
The case concerned a Tesco store in Sheldon, Birmingham, after it was brought to trading standards officials' attention by a customer, but was widened to stores nationally, the council said.
The head of trading standards, Sajeela Naseer, said: "This is not only a victory for Birmingham customers, it also has wider benefits for all consumers across the country.
"It was the council's case, confirmed by Tesco's guilty pleas today, that this was a misleading offer which deceived the purchasers of strawberries over many weeks during the summer of 2011.
"Food pricing, presentation and the depiction of promotional practices is a crucial issue for retailers, and in turn consumers. We are happy to work with trading standards departments up and down the country to help protect customers."
A Tesco spokeswoman apologised "sincerely", saying: " We sell over 40,000 products in our stores, with thousands on promotion at any one time, but even one mistake is one too many.
"Since then, to make sure this doesn't happen again we've given colleagues additional training and reminded them of their responsibilities to ensure we always adhere to the guidelines on pricing."
Consumer watchdog Which? said it supplied evidence to Birmingham trading standards on the case after its own investigation into supermarket special offers in November 2011.
Executive director Richard Lloyd said: "It's unacceptable that shoppers are misled into thinking they're getting a good deal with a special offer when that might not be the case.
"Tesco's hefty fine sends a clear signal to supermarkets to play fair and make sure that their special offers really are special."