The latest class action lawsuit alleging food mislabeling has been filed against Barilla pasta for claiming that it is “Italy’s No. 1 brand of pasta,” when it is actually made in Iowa and New York.
Plaintiffs Matthew Sinatro and Jessica Prost filed a lawsuit on behalf of consumers that argues “consumers willingly pay more for Italian sounding and/or looking products,” and that Italian durum wheat is known to be the best wheat for pasta-making. However, they say that because Italy cannot keep up with worldwide demand, Barilla has “scrambled to manufacture, market, and sell purportedly authentic ‘Italianmade’ pastas,” that use non-Italian durum wheat.
Sinatro and Prost say that Barilla’s false claims go past their slogan — and that the company reinforces the made-in-Italy myth by using the green, white, and red Italian flag. Further, over a decades-long marketing campaign, the company maintained a Barilla Historical Archive, a Barilla Pasta Museum, and Barilla Academy. According to plaintiffs, these were all part of an effort to “convince consumers that Barilla® brand pastas . . . come from Italian ingredients, [are] processed and manufactured in Italian factories, and then exported for sale to various countries.”
Contrary to any suggestion that the company’s products are imported from Italy, Barilla specifies on its website that its products are produced in Iowa and New York:
Barilla Pasta that is sold in the United States is made in our plants in Ames, IA and Avon, NY, with a few exceptions. Barilla Tortellini and Barilla Oven Ready Lasagne are made in Italy. Our Barilla Italy products state “Product of Italy, Distributed by Barilla America, Inc.” on the packaging. We also have product that is made in Canada. Barilla opened the Ames plant in 1998 and our Avon plant in 2007. The Barilla family was very concerned about maintaining Barilla’s high quality standards in the new plant. Consequently, the machines used in our Ames and Avon plants are the same as used in our plant in Parma, Italy. The recipe and the wheat blend are the same as that used in Parma, Italy. Barilla purchases its wheat from around the world, ending up with the best wheat available.
Sinatro and Prost each purchased one box of Barilla pasta (angel hair and spaghetti, respectively) for $2.00 per box at grocery stores in California. Each says they would not have overpaid a premium for the box had they known it wasn’t actually from Italy.
The complaint makes claims for violation of California’s unfair competition and business practices laws, false advertising, breach of warranty, and unjust enrichment.
The defendant pasta maker filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. In its motion, the company argued that the purpose of its trademark, ” ITALY’S #1 BRAND OF PASTA” is “to exclusively identify Barilla to consumers as the entity that made the products.”
Last week, U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna M. Ryu ruled that the plaintiffs had suffered “economic injury” such that Barilla’s motion to dismiss should fail in part. The litigation against the company will now move forward and the parties are expected back in court in a few weeks.
The lawsuit against Barilla is similar to other recent product-origin lawsuits, such as one against Texas Pete Hot Sauce (claiming the product is actually produced in North Carolina) and one against King’s Hawaiian (claiming its product is actually produced in California).
Attorneys for the parties did not immediately respond to Law&Crime’s request for comment.
Read the lawsuit here.
[screengrab via Barilla]
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