Barilla pasta claim of Italian origin is false advertising, lawsuit alleges

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Two boxes of $2 pasta have led to a possible class action lawsuit that could cost Barilla millions of dollars, legal experts say.

A pair of pasta buyers, Matthew Sinatro and Jessica Prost, sued the company claiming that they believed the pasta was made in Italy. The boxes are branded “Italy’s #1 Brand of Pasta” and logos in the colors of the Italian flag. But the pasta is made in Iowa and New York.

Sinatro and Prost claim they wouldn’t have bought the pasta if they had known it wasn’t made in Italy, which is valued not only for creating pasta, but also for having the rich durum wheat. protein needed to produce a quality product.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu ruled on Monday that the case had enough merit to continue. “Their allegations are sufficient to establish economic harm for purposes of constitutional standing,” Ryu wrote.

Barilla is based in Illinois but started as a shop that sold bread and pasta in Parma, Italy. The Iowa and New York facilities use ingredients sourced from countries other than Italy, according to court documents.

The California law firm that filed the complaint did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Washington Post.

A Barilla spokesperson said on Friday that the claims were unfounded, pointing to packaging language indicating that the pasta is made in the United States with ingredients sourced from the United States and elsewhere. “We are very proud of the brand’s Italian heritage, the company’s Italian craftsmanship, and the quality of our pasta in the United States and around the world,” the statement said.

Many modern consumers assume they are being misled or manipulated by corporations, according to some law professors who study false advertising.

Rebecca Tushnet, a professor at Harvard Law School, said people feel cheated when they pay a higher price for what they consider a special product, like Swiss chocolate.

She said consumers routinely file false advertising lawsuits against companies selling products in grocery stores because it’s one of the last forums in society that isn’t bogged down by legal forms or contracts in which consumers waive their rights to sue. So, Tushnet said, that pent-up frustration of being manipulated by corporations plays out in your local 5 alley.

Tushnet said she understands some people find the suits silly because they hardly expect to buy something made at 6,000 miles for $2. “It’s partly a matter of common sense,” she said.

But how do you quantify common sense when millions of dollars are at stake?

Tushnet said there has been an increase over the past five years or so of complainants and defendants in misleading advertising cases conducting public inquiries that address issues in the case.

Megan Bannigan, a partner at Debevoise and Plimpton who has tried intellectual property cases, said the investigation has come a long way and is a useful tool in misleading advertising issues.

When Bannigan started 15 years ago, she said, they would set up in a mall and try to lure 400 people into a room to ask them questions such as where a product came from and if they would be surprised to discover the product. real origin.

She said it has become much cheaper and more efficient to conduct online surveys, but these can still cost between $20,000 and $100,000. But that’s only a fraction of the cost in these kinds of cases, which can take millions of dollars to figure out.

Bannigan said she can see either or both sides of the Barilla lawsuit investigating, as there appears to be a legitimate legal issue.

“I don’t see the claim as mere buffoonery,” she said.

Gregory Klass, a law professor at Georgetown University, said the history of misleading advertising law dates back to the 19th century.

“There’s a long tradition of people caring about where their food comes from and where other products come from, so it’s no surprise to see lawsuits like this,” he said. declared.

Klass pointed to the well-known example of exclusive naming rights associated with sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France.

As for pasta made in Iowa and New York, he said the real question is how important it is to consumers that the packaging is misleading.

Alexandra J. Roberts, a law professor at Northeastern University in Boston, said some consumers are restless because Florida Natural Orange Juice now also uses Mexican oranges.

Florida’s citrus industry is renowned for its quality and consistency, so, she said, consumers are willing to pay more because the name on the box says it all.

The first item on the Florida’s Natural FAQ Page explains why he doesn’t only use Florida oranges: “The Florida orange crop can no longer meet our consumer demand, so we only add the best Mexican Valencia orange juice.” This allows us to continue to provide enough orange juice for consumers’ growing thirst while maintaining the superior taste they love from Florida’s Natural.

While the Product FAQ section of Barilla website does not address where the pasta is made, the spokesperson pointed out another section of the site this explains why not all pasta is made in Italy.

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