It's the award no brand ever wants to win, but here we are again to give out the gongs for the 2022 CHOICE Shonky Awards, recognising the worst of the worst products and services taking advantage of Australians.
"Whether it's an airline that makes redeeming flight credits a nightmare, a finance product targeting distressed pet owners, cookware that doesn't cook properly, processed food dressing itself up as healthy, or a florist delivering dud bouquets, we'll continue to call out companies that do the wrong thing by Australians," says CHOICE CEO Alan Kirkland.
The last thing people need is businesses that add more distress, difficulty and disappointment to their lives – but unfortunately that's exactly what we've seen in this year's Shonky AwardsAlan Kirkland, CHOICE CEO
"CHOICE would love never to have to give out another Shonky Award, but unfortunately we continue to uncover products and services that need to be called out.
"2022 has been a difficult year, with Australians living through a pandemic, a slew of natural disasters, and a cost of living crisis. The last thing people need is businesses that add more distress, difficulty and disappointment to their lives – but unfortunately that's exactly what we've seen in this year's Shonky Awards."
And the 2022 CHOICE Shonky Awards go to…
Qantas – for being the Spirit of Disappointment.
VetPay – for a credit product that's heavy on charges but light on detail.
Steggles Chicken Nuggets Boosted with Veggies – for hiding veggies so well that we could barely find them.
Bloomex – for flowers that don't deliver.
Zega Digital cookware – for an expensive "self-cooking" smart pot that doesn't properly cook.
CHOICE travel expert Jodi Bird reveals that Qantas was the company CHOICE readers and members complained about to us most in 2022.
If there were ever a company that appeared deliberately to be going out of its way to win a Shonky Award, it's Qantas. The so-called Spirit of Australia, which has been a part of the national fabric for more than 100 years, has been a disappointment to customers since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020.
"Qantas has always sold itself as the premium Australian domestic airline, and Australians have been very proud of Qantas as a premium airline," says CHOICE money and travel expert Jodi Bird. "But what we've seen recently is Qantas taken down to the level of a budget airline."
Delayed flights, tales of lost baggage and chaos at airports, and customer difficulties in using credits accumulated from travel cancellations during COVID lockdowns and restrictions, have all contributed to the disappointing performance of Australia's formerly favourite airline.
Add to that call wait times stretching to up 50 minutes when you actually try to contact them, and it's no wonder that Qantas was the most complained-about company to CHOICE by readers and members in 2022.
Read more about why we have given Qantas a Shonky.
"VetPay markets its loans as 'affordable', yet it charges interest rates of more than 18% and hits users with fees at every turn," says CHOICE head of policy Patrick Veyret.
Having your beloved pet suffer an illness can be incredibly stressful and upsetting. Now, imagine you can't afford the pricey procedure needed to make them better, or even save their life – so you turn to VetPay for help.
VetPay is a quick-access loan product that targets pet owners who find themselves struggling to pay their vet bill. Unfortunately, it also hits pet owners with high interest rates and a raft of fees and charges.
"CHOICE is awarding VetPay a Shonky for profiting from people's concerns when their pet is sick," says CHOICE head of policy Patrick Veyret. "VetPay markets its loans as 'affordable', yet it charges interest rates of more than 18% and hits users with fees at every turn."
Our analysis found that signing up for VetPay involves a yearly $49 fee just to access the service, $2.50 every time you make a repayment, plus a significant annual interest rate of 18.4%. VetPay is also worryingly coy about its product's terms and conditions, with only limited information on its website and details only provided once users actually apply for a loan.
Read more about why we have given VetPay a Shonky.
These Steggles Chicken Nuggets are marketed as being "Boosted with veggies", but actually contain a tiny amount of vegetables.
Steggles Chicken Nuggets Boosted with Veggies
If your children love chicken nuggets and you're always battling to get them to eat more vegetables, you may think this product from Steggles presents the perfect solution – "Boosted with veggies", the packaging proclaims, with "hidden cauliflower and potato".
But this claim isn't as impressive as it sounds.
"Although the packaging proclaims that these nuggets are 'boosted with veggies', each serving contains a tiny amount of vegetables," says CHOICE editor and parent Pru Engel.
We found that these nuggets contain just 11 grams of potato and three grams of cauliflower per 100g serve – less than a fifth of one standard serving of vegetables. This means a child would need to eat the entire 400g pack of nuggets, plus a portion of a second pack, to get just one whole serving of vegetables.
"These nuggets are just another example of a processed food making exaggerated claims and misleading statements to target parents who are just trying to make good choices for their kids," says Engel.
Read more about why we have given Steggles a Shonky.
CHOICE editorial director Marg Rafferty delivers a withering verdict on online florist Bloomex: "dodgy deliveries, dead flowers and accepting orders they can't fulfil".
The next 'winner' in our line-up of duds is (quite literally) a bloomin' disaster.
Online flower delivery service Bloomex declares itself "Australia's official florist" and lays claim to "3.8 million smiles delivered worldwide". But we've found they fail to deliver on multiple counts.
The floral service has left a trail of scathing reviews and customer complaints. The negative online sentiment has been enough to spawn a Facebook group dedicated to Bloomex disappointment stories.
"This year we're giving online florist Bloomex a Shonky Award for dodgy deliveries, dead flowers and accepting orders they can't fulfil," says CHOICE editorial director Marg Rafferty.
"We conducted a mystery shop, ordering 21 Bloomex bouquets to be delivered to regional addresses across Australia. Eight couldn't be delivered as sold, despite claims the company ships nationally; almost half of the 13 orders that were delivered turned up late; and eight of the 13 deliveries made contained flowers that were wilting or decomposing.
"That's pretty poor service, especially for a company whose motto is 'Fresh, Fast and Fair'."
Read more about why we have given Bloomex a Shonky.
Testing the Zega Digital cooking pot in the CHOICE kitchen labs.
Zega Digital cookware
Last up in our list of woeful winners is the Zega Digital cooking pot, an expensive piece of cookware that promises hands-off, energy-saving cooking and smart-app enabled walkaway technology.
The idea is: pop the ingredients in, heat it up, then turn the stove off and leave the Zega to 'self-cook'. Its secret – purportedly – lies in its double-wall construction that traps heat to cook your food after you take it off the stove.
"There's just one problem with the Zega Digital pot: it doesn't deliver," says CHOICE kitchen expert Chantelle Dart.
"It really disappointed us. When our experts cooked chicken according to the Zega app recipe, the chicken was partially raw, the sauce was watery and the vegetables were undercooked."
More concerningly, the meat was only 66°C in the centre – far below the recommended 75°C required to kill potential illness-causing microbes.
"To make the dish edible we had to cook it for a further 90 minutes than the Zega app recipe dictated, costing more time and money and defeating the entire purpose of this self-cooking pot," says Dart.
Read more about why we have given Zega Cookware a Shonky.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.