HYNDBURN firm Express Gifts has come under fire from an advertising watchdog after a sweets offer left a bitter taste in customers' mouths.
The company, which has sites in Church and Clayton-le-Moors, ran a promotion offering customers a free one-kilogram tin of Cadbury's Roses when they spent £20 or more.
But consumers in four counties complained to Trading Standards when they were sent boxes of Roses less than half the weight of the promised tins.
And now the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld the complaints and rapped the firm.
The company said it had run out of tins after underestimating the public response.
It told the ASA it had estimated the number required on the basis of previous promotions and, when its stock ran out, it had taken steps to avoid disappointing customers rather than waiting 12 to 16 weeks to order more tins.
Customers who ordered by telephone were told that boxes, not tins, would be sent with their order.
But those who ordered over the Internet received an e-mail stating they would receive a 1kg tin. Boxes were labelled with an apology explaining the situation and a £5 voucher.
An ASA spokesman said: "The authority noted that the response to the promotion was much higher than that to a previous similar promotion.
"It was concerned, however, that the promoters continued to distribute the mailing after they ran out of the advertised tins.
"It acknowledged that the promoters had offered a substitute gift but noted that part of the substitute gift was a voucher that could be redeemed only if the customer made further purchases which were subject to a delivery charge of £3.99. It was not satisfied that the substitute gift was equivalent in value to the advertised 1kg tin.
"It told the promoters to ensure that in future, if demand exceeded supply, they should take prompt action to withdraw promotional material and make sure any substitute gifts they offered were of equivalent value."
A spokesperson for Express Gifts said: "We accept the decision of the Advertising Standards Authority.
"The situation came about through an underestimate of the success of the promotion, which had a response rate 66 per cent higher than a test promotion had indicated.
"We did offer customers what we felt at the time to be a genuine alternative. We now appreciate that it may not have been completely satisfactory and we will be taking steps to ensure that we do not disappoint our customers in the future."