You may have heard about the lawsuit against Coca-Cola that alleges the company's Vitaminwater products' supposed health benefits are "misleading" and that, therefore, marketing them as "healthy" is illegal. How about the one in which disappointed movie fans sued Universal Studios for falsely advertising the movie Yesterday as featuring the actress Ana de Armas who appeared in the trailer but was nowhere to be found in the film?
It's an unfortunate truth that companies today must always be aware of any potential legal repercussions if they don't make certain their labels are doing exactly what they promise. While some lawsuits may appear baseless on the surface, is it really fair to call ALL cases involving false advertising and deceptive product labeling illegitimate?
Are all false advertising lawsuits frivolous?
Of course not.
But you would be forgiven for thinking that many of them are. Over the years, there have been plenty of lawsuits filed against companies for the silliest reasons. Cases regarding Godiva's Pennsylvania-made Belgian chocolates and fruit-less Froot Loops are only two, out of possibly hundreds, that come to mind.
However, some companies advertise their products with inaccurate labeling. And lawsuits against such companies are justified. 2020 alone proved to be a record-breaking year for misleading food and beverage cases. And we're sure there are going to be a few more misleading label lawsuits in 2023.
Incidentally, certain types of products have been the source of more lawsuits than others. Here are some examples to sink your teeth into.
Products with vanilla flavor
In the bittersweet battle between consumers and companies, vanilla flavoring has certainly been a mascot in recent years, with many consumers trying to seek justice for being misled by "vanilla"-labeled products with synthetic ingredients.
For example, plaintiffs took Mars Wrigley Confectionery to court for its alleged deceptive labeling of their ice cream product as “tasting like vanilla.” The vanilla flavoring in said ice cream was not, in fact, from natural sources. The court ultimately rejected the case, stating that it was not promised that all of the flavorings came from natural sources, only that this product "tastes like vanilla.” As many consumers could attest, this claim is accurate.
Products with environmental sustainability claims
Companies trying to keep up with the industry trend of labeling products as eco-friendly by sporting their "green" credentials may be in for a rude awakening. As more and more legal challenges are raised against them, these corporations could soon find themselves coming under fire for deceptively misleading consumers into believing they're purchasing eco-friendly goods, when all they've actually done is sprinkle some greenwash.
For example, Swedish mega-retailer H&M got heat from an unexpected source: a savvy American marketing student, Chelsea Commodore. She brought them to court for greenwashing their Conscious Collection line of clothes. Despite H&M’s claims that it was created with "the planet in mind," the lawsuit alleges otherwise and exposes less than uplifting practices behind the scenes at this fashion giant. Talk about getting schooled.
Products that are supposedly “all-natural”
There has also been a clear rise in the number of lawsuits over products that are falsely labeled as "all-natural." Take the case involving spices producer McCormick, for example. In a spicy dispute, McCormick found itself in trouble when plaintiffs sued them for adding unnatural ingredients like citric acid and cornstarch to products labeled as “natural.” To settle out of court and avoid further rubbing salt into their wounds, they agreed to a $3 million deal plus changing all "all-natural" labeling on its spices.
And for some reason, cheese and pasta
Without a doubt, some baffling false advertising cases must be included in any discussion on the subject.
Kraft Heinz, for one, better take their mac and cheese off the shelf because Amanda Ramirez of Florida is not here for false advertising. She's filed a class action complaint that claims Kraft misled consumers with Velveeta's “ready in three and a half minutes” labeling. According to Ms. Ramirez’s 15-page reproach, it takes way longer than that to actually eat said cheesy goodness. She had done some major fact-checking herself because when all is said and done (after microwaving AND allowing time for sauce thickening), that meal just wasn't even close to ready in under four minutes.
And because cheese goes well with pasta, we'll cite a similarly loony case against a pasta maker.
Matthew Sinatro and Jessica Prost are taking a stand against Barilla's brave move to dupe Americans into believing they were eating authentically sourced Italian spaghetti when really, it was just plain ol' Iowa macaroni. The two have filed a class action lawsuit that has most definitely made waves among pasta enthusiasts everywhere. To those two we say, grazie mille for bringing this injustice to our attention.
It may seem like filing such lawsuits is the new way to get rich fast. In any case, companies need to learn that truth is always in style and honesty will save them money, not cost them. These days, misleading labels appear everywhere but maybe now with so many watchful eyes out there, justice might be served appropriately.
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