The Guardia di Finanza di Padova found 9,200 bottles of wine, 40,000 labels and 4,200 boxes of the fake "Moët & Chandon” branded champagne.
The sale of bottles would have earned about €350,000 but the sum could have been as much as €1.8m with the labels discovered, said the Italian agency.
Le Fiamme Gialle (financial police) found the site at the end of last year on the border between Selvazzano and Abano Terme, near Padova. The agency found eight people at the site and investigations are continuing.
Analysis of the product confirmed it as "white sparkling wine" with an alcoholic strength of 11.62%.
Brand protection specialist view
Haydn Simpson, commercial director, Western Europe at NetNames, the online brand protection specialist, said the news highlights the dangers of counterfeit food and drink.
“This case is just the latest in a string of reports of counterfeit food and drink products saturating the global FMCG market. Developments in technology have seen fake packaging become increasingly convincing, and often adulterated food and drink is difficult to detect without a taste test, until it has caused serious damage to the consumer’s health and a brand’s reputation.”
Simpson said in the run up to Valentine’s Day, many couples will consider buying their loved ones champagne as a gift, but there is the risk that they will fall victim to this fraud.
“It is important that brands are proactive and educate their customers on how to identify imitations of their brand by highlighting known counterfeit operations, and even set up dedicated web pages that allow consumers to report fake products and where they were purchased.
“If poor-quality imitations of a brand are left undiscovered, the consequences can be serious. This can include damage to hard-earned reputations and customer loyalty, and most worryingly a negative impact on the health of the consumer. With a strong brand protection plan in place, brands can fight back against this counterfeit threat.”
Food Fraud Network figures
Meanwhile, the EU Food Fraud Network (FFN) has revealed its 2015 activity report.
The network started in July 2013 and since its creation, the Commission has observed an increase in exchanges from 30 in 2013 to more than 100 in 2015, adding up to about 200 cases in total.
It permits exchanges on potential cases and serves as a forum for discussion on the coordination and prioritisation of action at EU level on food fraud matters.
An IT tool, known as the Administrative Assistance and Cooperation (AAC) system, was launched to facilitate the exchange of information between national authorities working to combat cross-border non-compliances in the food and feed chain in the EU.
In 2015, 108 cases were exchanged by the FFN and 12 went through the AAC system.
Alleged violations were related to labelling non-compliance at 36% (mostly with regard to ingredient mislabelling), suspicion of illegal export of animal by-products (ABPs) with 18%, and prohibited treatments and/or processes applied to a certain foodstuff (e.g. addition of synthetic glycerol to wine) with 13%.
Falsified certification/documents made up 9%, as did prohibited products/unfit for human consumption with species or ingredient substitution and prohibited substance accounting for 5% each of the exchanges in the network.
The majority of exchanges concerned ABPs, followed by those on fish and fish products.
Last year, meat products were the category of foodstuffs for the majority of exchanges through the network, followed by fish products and honey.
However, the Commission said statistical conclusions related to potential “food fraud” cases cannot be drawn given that Member States may also exchange information outside of the FFN and cases which occur at national level are not exchanged via the network.
Saffron fraud work
One area of concern raised by scientists from Czech Republic and Spain was saffron fraud.
They found more than 50% of samples were fraudulent after analysing 44 commercial products. A total of 26 labelled as 'Spanish saffron' were neither grown or processed in the country.
Researchers combined chemistry with statistics to develop their methodology. The first phase consisted in identifying the metabolites or small molecules characteristic of saffron.
After, a method was created to detect these small molecules using liquid chromatography coupled with high-resolution mass spectrometry.
The authors suggest glycerophospholipids and their oxidised lipids are the best molecular markers for determining saffron origin. They added saffron technology and processing play a crucial role.
"Over the past few years the media have been reporting this fraudulent activity, but up until now there were barely any analytical tools that could be used to detect said fraud,” said Josep Rubert, a researcher at University of Chemistry and Technology (UCT Prague, Czech Republic) and the University of Valencia (Spain).
“So, we created a new strategy to determine the authenticity of saffron based on metabolomics or, in other words, the chemical fingerprints of foods.
“It is highly likely that lower quality saffron is purchased in other countries (such as Morocco, Iran and India according to our data) at a much lower price than in Spain, to later be packaged and sold as Spanish saffron despite being of unknown origin a fraudulent activity that gambles with consumers' trust".
The technique allows for three types to be defined: one certified with the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) from La Mancha or Aragon, another grown and packaged in Spain (although it does not have the PDO certificate) and a third packaged as 'Spanish saffron' but is of unknown origin (although most likely packaged in Spain).