The maker of Bertolli olive oil has agreed to pay $7 million to settle a class action alleging the company misrepresented the origin and quality of its products. Koller v. Med Foods, Inc., No. 14-2400 (N.D. Cal., motion filed April 3, 2018). Deoleo USA previously removed the contested phrase “Imported from Italy” from the challenged products and has agreed to avoid using similar phrases, including “Made in Italy,” unless the oil is made entirely from olives grown and pressed in Italy. In addition to paying the plaintiff class $7 million, the company will bottle its extra virgin olive oil in dark green bottles to prevent light degradation, shorten the “best by” period and disclose of the date of harvest.
A California state court has reportedly approved a class action settlement that will provide vouchers or cash to state residents who bought Safeway olive oil allegedly falsely labeled as “imported from Italy.” Kumar v. Safeway, No. RG14726707 (Cal. Super. Ct., entered March 16, 2018). The class alleged that Safeway labeled its olive oil as imported and “extra virgin” but manufactured it from olives grown and pressed outside Italy. The settlement reportedly offers class members $0.25 to $0.75 or vouchers worth up to $1.50; attorneys were awarded more than $1.4 million in fees and expenses and the named plaintiff will receive $6,490.
An Italian appeals court has reportedly voided a fine of €550,000 previously levied on Lidl Stiftung & Co. KG for selling bottles of mislabeled olive oil. The court ruled that Italy’s Antitrust Authority (AGCM) failed to explain why the company's actions were negligent when the agency imposed the fine, which resulted from tests determining that bottles of Primadonna olive oil labeled as extra virgin contained only virgin olive oil. Although the Administrative Court of Lazio confirmed the product only met standards for virgin olive oil, it also determined that Lidl had demonstrated a normal degree of diligence in its control measures and verification systems.
Greek officials have reportedly charged seven people with criminal fraud and money laundering related to the sale of adulterated olive oil. The group allegedly added green dyes to sunflower seed oil then sold it off-market as extra-virgin olive oil. Most of the oil was sold in Greece or exported to Germany and other EU countries using invoices that were later destroyed. The Greek police reportedly became aware of the sale of adulterated oil when olive oil producers told the Hellenic Food Authority that their producer codes were being used on packages and products they did not sell.
A California federal court has certified two classes alleging that Deoleo USA Inc., importer of Bertolli and Carapelli olive oils, misleadingly labeled its products as "extra virgin" and "imported from Italy." Koller v. Med Foods, Inc., No. 14-2400 (N.D. Cal., entered August 24, 2017). Details on the court's denial of a motion to dismiss appear in Issue 550 of this Update. The court held that the question is whether the manufacturer “breached any legal obligation to take reasonable steps to ensure its oils meet the standards at least until the ‘best by’ date” on the bottle, a question that is subject to determination on a class-wide basis and predominates over any individual issues. Issue 645
A federal court has dismissed a putative class action alleging Monini North America's truffle olive oils do not contain truffles, holding that the plaintiffs’ concession that the oil tasted and smelled like truffles was fatal to their claims. Jessani v. Monini N. Am., No. 17-3257 (S.D.N.Y., entered August 3, 2017). Additional details about the complaint appear in Issue 633 of this Update. To prevail on a claim of deceptive advertising, a plaintiff must allege that the deceptive behavior was likely to mislead a reasonable customer, the court noted, but Monini's product label calls the product “White Truffle Flavored Olive Oil” and identifies only two ingredients: olive oil and aroma. “Courts routinely conclude that where a product describes itself as substance-flavored despite not containing the actual substance, and the ingredient label truthfully reflects that fact, as a matter of law the product would not confuse a reasonable consumer acting reasonably under…
Two proposed class actions have been filed in California claiming false labeling of truffle-flavored olive oil. Schiffman v. Urbani Truffles, No. 17-935 (E.D. Cal., filed May 3, 2017); Quiroz v. Sabatino Truffles, No. 17-783 (C.D. Cal., filed May 3, 2017). The plaintiffs argue that the olive oil producers add 2,4 dithiapentane to flavor their products instead of truffles and sell the “truffle infusions” at markups as high as 1,400 percent over the price of plain olive oils. The actions claim violations of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and state consumer protection laws. Details on similar lawsuits in New York appear in Issue 633 of this Update. Issue 634
Two putative class actions allege that Trader Joe’s “Black Truffle Flavored” olive oil and Monini’s “White Truffle Flavored” olive oil are flavored with synthetic chemicals rather than truffles. Brumfield v. Trader Joe’s, No. 17-3239 (S.D.N.Y, filed May 2, 2017); Jessani v. Monini N. Am., No. 17-3257 (S.D.N.Y., filed May 2, 2017). The plaintiffs argue that the products are sold for significantly more—34 percent more for Trader Joe’s and 459 percent more for Monini—than olive oil without additional flavoring. Claiming violations of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and state consumer protection statutes, the plaintiffs seek class certification, an injunction, damages, restitution and attorney’s fees. Issue 633
A Georgia court has dismissed with prejudice a complaint against television personality Mehmet Oz accusing the physician of making false claims about the quality of olive oil in the United States, finding that Oz’s statements were protected under a state anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) law protecting speech made in connection with an issue of public concern. N. Am. Olive Oil Assoc. v. Oz, No. 2016-283156, (Sup. Ct. Ga., Fulton Cty., order entered March 3, 2017.) The North American Olive Oil Association alleged that Oz and his guests made “false statements regarding the quality and purity” of olive oil sold in U.S. supermarkets. One of the guests was employed by olive oil producer California Olive Ranch, but the guest’s ties to the company were allegedly not disclosed on the show. The court said it had “grave concerns that the motivation for the present action falls directly within the purpose…
The North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA) has filed a lawsuit against Mehmet Oz of "The Dr. Oz Show" alleging he falsely told his audience in a May 2016 episode that 80 percent of olive oil sold in supermarkets is fraudulent. N. Am. Olive Oil Ass'n v. Oz, No. 283156 (Ga. Super. Ct., Fulton Cty., filed November 29, 2016). The complaint asserts that Oz told viewers: "So how does it become fake, if it's just fresh olive juice? . . . Adulterated oil . . . takes some of the real oil and mixes it with fake olive oil substitute. To make the fake olive oil, you take an oil with no flavor or color like sunflower oil, add some coloring in there like chlorophyll to give it that rich green hue, then you mix that in with some of the real stuff, into extra virgin olive oil, and then,…