A plaintiff has filed a putative class action alleging Iberia Foods Corp. misleads consumers by selling its oil as Extra Virgin Olive Oil despite containing 80 percent sunflower oil. Okoe v. Iberia Foods Corp., No. 18-9161 (S.D.N.Y., filed October 5, 2018). The front label of the product, the complaint alleges, features a dark green background with the phrase "Sunflower Oil &" in black text and "Extra Virgin Olive Oil" in gold, allegedly causing the sunflower oil disclosure to be "barely distinguishable from the background" and "readily overlooked by consumers." The plaintiff cites a number of sources—including the BBC, Quora, activationproducts.com and finecooking.com—to assert that sunflower oil is less desirable to consumers than extra virgin olive oil because of the purported health benefits of the latter. For allegations of fraud and violations of New York consumer-protection statutes, the plaintiff seeks class certification, damages, an injunction and attorney's fees.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has rejected a class member's objection to a settlement between Salov North America Corp. and a class of Filippo Berio olive-oil purchasers. Kumar v. Salov N. Am. Corp., No. 17-16405 (9th Cir., entered September 11, 2018). The appeals court held that the district court properly found the settlement "fair, reasonable, and adequate" after considering "the strength of the plaintiffs' case and the risk involved with further litigation."
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