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Shook Partner Cary Silverman has authored a report exploring the rise in class actions filed in New York, which, he explains, "is largely a result of lawsuits targeting businesses that sell food and beverages." Class Action Chaos: The Rise of Extortionate Consumer Class Action Lawsuits in New York, created in partnership with the New York Civil Justice Institute, details how "the percentage of class action lawsuits targeting products that New Yorkers place in their shopping carts, grab at a grocery store, or buy at a restaurant has gone up." "Lawsuits claiming that businesses mislead consumers in how they labeled, marketed, or advertised food made up about one-third of deceptive practices class actions in 2015. Now, these 'food court' lawsuits account for about 60% of New York’s consumer class actions – exceeding deceptive practices claims against all other products and services combined. Over 100 food class actions were filed in New…

A plaintiff has filed a putative class action alleging Dietz & Watson Inc. misleads consumers by naming its product "Smoked Provolone Cheese" when the cheese's smoky flavor comes from "smoke flavor" rather than "slow cooking over a fire of wood chips." Jones v. Dietz & Watson Inc., No. 20-6018 (E.D.N.Y., filed December 9, 2020). The plaintiff alleges the cheese should be labeled "Natural Smoke Flavored Provolone Cheese" under U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations on characterizing flavors. "Even if consumers were to view the ingredient list, a reasonable consumer would have no reason to know that listing 'smoke flavor' forecloses the possibility the Product was also subject to some smoking," the complaint asserts. "However, the Product has not undergone any real smoking, which is deceptive and misleading to consumers." The plaintiff alleges violations of New York's consumer-protection statutes, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, fraud and negligent misrepresentation.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued final guidance on the use of potassium chloride on food labels. The guidance advises "food manufacturers of its intent to exercise enforcement discretion for the name 'potassium salt' in the ingredient statement on food labels as an alternative to 'potassium chloride' to better inform consumers that it is a salt substitute." "Potassium chloride, in some instances, can be used as a partial substitute for sodium chloride (referred to as 'salt') in food processing and manufacturing," the constituent update notes. "Providing this enforcement discretion may help facilitate consumers’ choices to decrease their sodium consumption, if manufacturers use potassium chloride as a substitute ingredient for some sodium chloride."

A consumer has filed a putative class action alleging that Inventure Foods Inc., which produces the T.G.I. Friday's line of frozen foods, produces its "mozzarella sticks" with cheddar. Nason v. Inventure Foods Inc., No. 20-10141 (S.D.N.Y., filed December 3, 2020). The plaintiff cites the ingredient list, which lists only cheddar and not mozzarella, and asserts that "cheddar is a 'hard' cheese less suitable for chewing and lacks the dairy taste of real mozzarella." The complaint further argues that "mozzarella is more nutritious because it contains more calcium and less fat and calories than cheddar." The plaintiff alleges violations of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, New York's consumer-protection statutes and negligent misrepresenation.

Two consumers allege that Hawaiian Host Candies, "synonymous with Hawaii," are made in Gardena, California.  Toy v. Hawaiian Host Candies of L.A. Inc., No. 20-2191 (C.D. Cal., filed November 17, 2020). "Had Plaintiffs and other consumers known that the Hawaiian Host Products are not made in Hawaii, they would have paid significantly less for them, or would not have purchased them at all," the complaint alleges. The plaintiffs assert that the candy packaging intentionally misleads consumers with the candy name as well as statements such as "Hawai'i's Gift to the World," "Hawaiian Host products are made with aloha" and "Our classic confections reflect our deep connection to Hawai'i and are meant to be shared with others in the true spirit of Aloha." The packaging also includes the name of Hawaiian Host Inc. and a Honolulu address. As further evidence, the complaint cites the company's social media feeds, which share images of…

Two consumers have alleged that Kellogg Co. markets promotions on the packaging of its products that end before the shelf life of the product. Seaman v. Kellogg Co., No. 20-5520 (E.D.N.Y., filed November 13, 2020). The complaint asserts that consumers rely on incentives listed on product packaging when deciding which product to purchase, but because the shelf life of the products extends beyond the expiration of the incentive, the products stay on store shelves longer than the length of the promotion and consumers purchase products relying on offers that they ultimately cannot use. "Where a shopper views a promotion such as described here, they will have no reason to scrutinize the fine print telling them when the promotion expires," the complaint argues. "Reasonable consumers are not so innately distrustful of companies and expect that all aspect of consumable items, including promotions, are functional throughout their shelf-life." The plaintiffs argue that…

A Massachusetts federal court has dismissed allegations against Polar Corp. asserting the company's ginger ale products contain a "miniscule amount" of ginger that "provides none of the health benefits consumers associate with real ginger." Fitzgerald v. Polar Corp., No. 20-10877 (D. Mass., entered November 10, 2020). The court noted that the complaint "appears to have been imperfectly copied from a nearly identical case brought in the Northern District of California involving Canada Dry ginger ale." The court was unpersuaded that Polar Corp. misrepresented that the ginger ale contained ginger, finding that ginger was indeed an ingredient. "[N]o reasonable consumer could rely on a claim of 'real ginger' in a soft drink as a representation that the drink contains chunks of 'ginger root' as opposed to a ginger taste," the court found, dismissing the plaintiff's allegations that rested on the existence of false statements.

A California federal court has dismissed without prejudice a lawsuit alleging Kellogg Sales Co. misleads consumers as to the characterizing flavor of its Bear Naked V'Nilla Almond granola, finding that the plaintiff could not support his allegation that the product does not contain sufficient amounts of vanilla. Zaback v. Kellogg Sales Co., No. 20-0268 (S.D. Cal., entered October 29, 2020). The plaintiff alleged that the image of vanilla beans on the granola packaging misleadingly implied that "real vanilla derived exclusively from vanilla beans" was the only characterizing flavor. The court had previously dismissed the "allegation that merely because vanilla is expensive Kellogg would have included vanilla on the Product’s ingredient list" and instead assessed the plaintiff's argument that Kellogg "admitted" the product did not contain sufficient vanilla to flavor the granola. "The 'admission' boils down to this: Kellogg’s use of 'Natural Flavors' on the Product’s ingredient list means the product does…

A consumer has filed a putative class action alleging Whole Foods Market Group Inc. mislabels its chocolate-coated ice cream bars because the "purported chocolate contains vegetable oils." Mitchell v. Whole Foods Mkt. Grp. Inc., No. 20-8496 (S.D.N.Y., filed October 12, 2020). "Consumers want chocolate in chocolate products to come from a real source, i.e., from cacao beans," the complaint asserts. "Chocolate provides greater satiety and a creamy and smooth mouthfeel compared to other ingredients which substitute for chocolate, like vegetable oils, which provide less satiety, a waxy and oily mouthfeel and leave an aftertaste." The plaintiff argues that the product's chocolate "contains ingredients not found in real chocolate," such as organic expeller pressed palm kernel oil, and alleges the inclusion of the ingredients amounts to fraud, negligent misrepresentation and unjust enrichment as well as violations of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and New York's consumer-protection statutes.

A California federal court has dismissed a putative class action alleging that Mott's apple juices and applesauce are not "natural" as marketed because they contain trace amounts of pesticides. Yu v. Dr Pepper Snapple Grp. Inc., No. 18-6664 (N.D. Cal, entered October 6, 2020). The complaint was previously dismissed without prejudice, and the amended version contained the "same five causes of action" but "added two generic surveys to the allegations." The court examined the additional surveys but was unconvinced that they provided enough support to allow the case to move forward. "The 2015 Consumer Reports Survey arguably undermines, rather than supports, Plaintiff’s argument about the reasonable consumer’s interpretation of the word 'natural,'" the court held. "It states, 'Consumers were asked about their perception of the natural and organic labels. The organic food label is meaningful, is backed by federal regulations, and verified by third-party inspections; the natural label, however, is…

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