Shoppers are being lured into taking part in competitions to win prizes that are almost never handed out.
A Money Mail investigation can reveal that well-known brands such as McCain oven chips and Onken yoghurt are using small print to withhold prizes.
In the terms and conditions of some competitions, it states that the company may only hand out all the prizes if every single promotional code on its products, such as yoghurt pots or food wrappers, are entered into the competition website.
That means if just one eligible customer fails to enter the competition, some of the prizes could be withheld.
Taken for a ride: Our investigation reveals that well-known brands such as McCain and Onken are using small print to withhold prizes
Some companies are only giving out prizes if they receive an entry at an exact moment on a specific day determined by a computer algorithm.
In the worst cases, these tactics are resulting in less than one in 100 of the advertised prizes being given away.
Money Mail found the chances of winning are so slim that some firms never acquire the prizes at all, but take out insurance policies that pay if a winner is selected.
Marc Gander, of the campaigner Consumer Action Group, says: ‘It is outrageous that these companies are being allowed to reel in customers by promising prizes that you have barely any chance of winning.’
McCain ran a competition over the last year that advertised 28,515 prizes. These included ten Mini Countryman cars and thousands of vouchers for spa breaks and family days out.
Customers had to enter a code from packs of chips into a website and fill out forms with their email address.
Yet a list of winners published after the competition closed on January 31 revealed that just 160 people received the vouchers. There were no winners of a Mini. In total, just 0.56 per cent of the prizes were given away.
The firm relied on a catch in the small print which stated that although prizes were ‘available’, they were not ‘guaranteed’ to be given away.
In competitions where the small print states that every single pack must be entered for all prizes to be distributed, firms can legally give out as few as they like.
Baked goods firm Brioche Pasquier is offering 40 £4,000 holidays to France
Yoghurt firm Onken advertised a competition for 50,000 NutriBullet food mixers it ran last year.
You had to enter a code on the pot into a website. Its small print stated the number of prizes issued would depend on how many people took part. Just 400 prizes were handed out — 0.8 per cent of the haul on offer.
A similar competition run by the feminine hygiene firm Bodyform currently offers ten pairs of tickets to music festivals and 27,200 vouchers for gigs, worth up to £250 each.
The terms and conditions state that all the gig vouchers will be allocated only if the promotional code on every pack is entered.
It adds: ‘If less entries are received, all prizes may not be allocated throughout the promotion.’
Baked goods firm Brioche Pasquier is currently offering 40 £4,000 family holidays to France, including stays in the Dordogne, the Loire Valley and Paris.
Participants must enter a code on packets into a website, along with their date of birth and email address. The small print says: ‘If fewer entries are received, all prizes may not be allocated throughout the promotion.’
In some competitions, prizes are allocated by a computer at a specific moment in time. Often, if no one enters at that moment, the prize won’t be given away. In some cases, this period might be as short as a second.
For example, Jarlsberg Cheese offered £50,000 of shopping vouchers in a competition last year. Again, you had to enter a code on promotional packs into a website.
The prizes were allocated in five-second bursts throughout the day. There were more than 1,000 prizes on offer, but the list of winners featured just 25 names, indicating that just 2.4 per cent of the prizes were given away.
A spokesman says that the opportunity to win a prize was ‘added value’ to customers.
Mineral water brand Highland Spring is offering 10,000 prizes in a competition.
These include 50 trips on the Northern Belle luxury train with a five-course lunch and a hotel stay, and 50 family getaways where you stay in unusual locations, such as a yurt or gypsy caravan.
The small print reads: ‘Although all prizes are available to be won, there is no guarantee they will all be won. Entries are timed to the second. Unclaimed prizes will not be re-seeded into the promotion.’
Some companies are taking out insurance policies instead of buying some or all of the prizes. The insurance pays out if there are more winners than planned.
Alcoholic ginger beer firm Crabbie’s offered a £1 million prize in 2014. Three people who found codes under bottle caps were invited to Aintree racecourse to watch the Grand National.
Smoothie snub: Yoghurt firm Onken advertised a competition for 50k NutriBullet food mixers – just 400 prizes were handed out
If they correctly predicted the first three horses home, they won the million-pound prize.
The firm took out cover through insurance firm WorldWide Special Risks, which would have paid out the £1 million prize if the winners guessed correctly — but nobody did.
Most competitions now require you to enter personal details to take part. Firms hope to use this information to target you with offers. Most ask you to tick a box when you enter the competition to receive the promotions.
Di Coke, who runs competition website SuperLucky, says: ‘Companies are asking for more and more information, but entrants don’t realise that they may only have a tiny chance of winning.’
A spokesman for Highland Spring says: ‘Everyone who takes part in our Highland Spring promotion has a fair and equal chance to win one of the 10,000 prizes potentially available.’
A McCain spokesman says: ‘The Great Village Raffle promotion clearly stated on packaging and in the terms and conditions that prizes were available to be won, not guaranteed.’
Jon Wilkinson, of WorldWide Special Risks, says: ‘Insurance allows brands to offer large offers with the security of knowing they will always be able to pay for the prize if the public really engages with the competition.’
An Onken spokesman says: ‘The quantity of prizes awarded was determined by the number of people who entered. If every pack was entered, all 50,000 NutriBullet prizes would be fulfilled.
‘Like all our promotions and competitions, this promotion is legally compliant.’
A Bodyform spokesman says that the music festival trips are guaranteed. He adds: ‘The total number of secondary prizes will be won if all promotional pack codes are entered.’
A Brioche Pasquier spokesman was unavailable for comment.
A spokesman for Crabbie’s declined to comment.