Litigation, increasing online grocery shopping and consumer concerns regarding product ingredients were hot topics at the 2018 Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) conference. Founded in 1908, GMA comprises more than 250 food, beverage and consumer product companies—collectively, consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies—and works as an advocate for its members and the industry.

Many of the event’s panels focused on recent developments affecting the industry and expected trends going forward, including panels on Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (Prop. 65) issues, the litigation landscape for CPG companies and pet food litigation issues. Shook Partners Jim Muehlberger and Naoki Kaneko presented with Courtney Ozer, Assistant General Counsel – Litigation for Unilever United States, on trends in class action litigation, noting a continued focus on natural claims—including more claims filed regarding consumer products like lotions, soaps and home care products—and trends stemming from an increased consumer focus on sustainability and transparency regarding production methods. Partner Lindsey Heinz was featured on a panel discussing legal issues related to organic products. Some issues of interest included the barriers to increasing the acreage of organic farming in the United States and friction between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Organic Standards Board.

Several speakers discussed the increasing number of attorneys who send demand letters in high volumes to CPG companies in order to obtain small settlements. This trend is troubling for a number of reasons, including the extortive nature of the practice, the lack of transparency both with the attorneys who send the letters and the companies who pay to settle these issues, and the trap that making such payments creates by incentivizing more demand letters. One panel discussed the issue and called on members to find an innovative way to combat demand letters, suggesting perhaps an industry push to fully litigate these issues instead of settling claims to minimize costs and business disruption.

Reporting provided by Shook Associate Elizabeth Fessler.

About The Author

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.