According to a class-action lawsuit filed earlier this month, plaintiff Amanda Ramirez claims that she wouldn't have purchased Velveeta Shells & Cheese from the supermarket had she "known the truth" about the product. In the filing, Ramirez alleges that "the statement of 'ready in 3 1/2 minutes' [which is found on the product packaging] is false and misleading because the Product takes longer than 3-and-a-half minutes to prepare for consumption."
Ramirez claims the extra steps for which the packaging calls increase the total preparation time (though she didn't indicate by how much) to the point that she wouldn't have purchased the product had she known otherwise. These include removing the pouch of cheese powder, stirring in water and allowing the cheese sauce to thicken.
"As a result of the false and misleading representations, the Product is sold at a premium price, approximately no less than $10.99 for eight 2.39 oz cups, excluding tax and sales, higher than similar products, represented in a non-misleading way, and higher than it would be sold for absent the misleading representations and omissions," the filing said.
The 15-page lawsuit seeks more than $5 million in damages and looks to cover consumers in Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Iowa, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia who purchased the single-serving shells and cheese. The suit indicates that there are at least 100 such customers who purchased the product during the statute of limitations period.
This is only the latest alleged "food fraud" lawsuit to make it to court, including Subways' infamous #Tunagate scandal.
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However, the most pertinent example may be from this past October, when Barilla found itself in hot water following news of a class-action lawsuit in which consumers took umbrage with the slogan "Italy's No. 1 brand of pasta." Save "a few exceptions," Barilla pasta sold in U.S. stores is actually manufactured in facilities located in Ames, Iowa, and Avon, N.Y.
The lawsuit claimed that "Barilla misrepresents its Italian origin" because its packaging features the colors of the Italian flag, "perpetuating the notion that the products are authentic pastas from Italy." Barilla, meanwhile, has stated that "the wording on the box clearly states: 'Made in the U.S.A.'"
While Barilla had pushed to dismiss the suit as meritless, a judge ruled that the case could move forward in December. As The Takeout reported at the time, the ultimate decision could "impact labeling standards in the future."
In an emailed statement to NPR, Will Wright — one of Ramirez's lawyers — said that's what his firm was attempting to accomplish.
"There are a lot of people that may feel this is just a little fibbing and not really a case and I get that," he wrote. "But we are striving for something better. We want corporate America to be straightforward and truthful in advertising their products."
He added: "My firm also represents clients in what most would say are more compelling cases (arsenic in baby food, etc.) but we don't feel corporations should get a pass for any deceptive advertising. The consumers deserve better."
Meanwhile, Kraft Heinz told the publication in a written statement that the lawsuit was not only "frivolous," but it would also "strongly defend against the allegations in the complaint."
It will be up to a judge in the coming weeks whether the case will be dismissed — which is likely what Kraft Heinz will push for — or move forward.
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