New York federal courts recently dismissed three implausible mislabeling claims on the pleadings, prompting reasonable consumers to take a closer look at packaging. Each of the three claims— Boswell v. Bimbo Bakeries USA, Inc., Kamara v. Pepperidge Farm Inc., and Warren v. Whole Foods Market Group Inc.—was a class action filed by the same plaintiff’s counsel.
On November 4, 2021, the Southern District of New York dismissed Boswell v. Bimbo Bakeries USA, Inc., a putative class action claiming that Entenmann’s “All Butter Loaf Cake” was falsely advertised because it contained soybean oil and artificial flavors in addition to butter. Acknowledging that the description “All Butter” is ambiguous, the Boswell court considered the challenged product’s label as well as the labels used on other butter cake products to determine that the description was not “likely to mislead a reasonable consumer acting reasonably under the circumstances.”
On November 9, 2021, the Southern District of New York similarly dismissed Kamara v. Pepperidge Farm Inc., a putative class action claiming that use of the phrase “Golden Butter Crackers” was misleading because the crackers contained vegetable oil. The Kamara court found that the product’s packaging accurately indicated that the crackers contained vegetable oil, noting that vegetable oil was the second ingredient in the ingredients list displayed on the packaging. As such, the court found that the complaint failed to plausibly allege why a reasonable consumer would interpret “Golden Butter” to mean that “wherever butter could be used in the product, it would be used instead of using its synthetic substitute, vegetable oil.”
Most recently, on December 3, 2021, the Eastern District of New York dismissed Warren v. Whole Foods Market Group Inc., a putative class action claiming that the label used on Whole Foods Market’s instant oatmeal misled consumers and “tricked them into paying inflated prices” for a high-sugar product. The court determined that the product’s sugar content was “hard to miss,” explaining that “even if a reasonable consumer was unaware of sugar’s many names, or of the nutrition label’s purpose, the fact remains that the words ‘Sugar 11g’ are prominently displayed immediately next to the ingredient list.”
These mislabeling rulings arise from “a long string of putative class actions brought by the same lawyer,” as Judge Furman of the Southern District of New York Described. As such, they illustrate the New York federal courts’ willingness to filter out implausible and poorly pled complaints against large food manufacturers for allegedly mislabeling popular food products sold all over the United States. This begs the question of whether New York federal court precedent will influence food labeling litigation in other jurisdictions, and if so, how?