A California resident has sued Unilever United States, Inc. in federal district court, seeking class certification, injunctive relief, restitution, and punitive damages for alleged violations of state consumer protection laws in the sale and marketing of a butter-substitute product known as “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!®” Rosen v. Unilever U.S., Inc., No. 09-02563 (N.D. Cal., filed June 9, 2009). According to the complaint, Unilever labels and promotes its product as “Made with a Blend of Nutritious Oils” and “a better nutrition option than butter,” when, in fact, the product contains “a highly unhealthy, non-nutritious oil known as partially hydrogenated oil.”

Claiming that he would not have purchased the product but for reliance on defendant’s purportedly deceptive statements, named plaintiff Amnon Rosen alleges only economic injury, stating that he “suffered injury in that he would not have paid money for the Product had these misrepresentations not been made.” Still, he avers that partially hydrogenated oil “is known to cause a number of health problems, including coronary disease, heart attacks and death.” Rosen seeks to certify a class of California residents who purchased the product since 2004 in reliance on the misleading promotional and labeling statements. He also seeks a court order enjoining future conduct in violation of state consumer protection laws.

The complaint alleges violations of California’s Business and Professions Code and the Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA). While Rosen claims that he does not seek monetary damages “at this point” and will amend his complaint to seek damages under the CLRA after providing the defendant with notice, his prayer for relief does request restitution and disgorgement, compensatory damages, punitive damages, interest, and the costs of suit.

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For decades, manufacturers, distributors and retailers at every link in the food chain have come to Shook, Hardy & Bacon to partner with a legal team that understands the issues they face in today's evolving food production industry. Shook attorneys work with some of the world's largest food, beverage and agribusiness companies to establish preventative measures, conduct internal audits, develop public relations strategies, and advance tort reform initiatives.