Kraft Heinz, Others Shake Off Parmesan Cheese Suits

Bloomberg Law’s combination of innovative analytics, research tools and practical guidance provides you with everything you need to be a successful litigator.

By Julie A. Steinberg

Kraft Heinz Co. and others won dismissal of proposed class suits alleging “100 Grated Parmesan Cheese” containers were deceptively labeled because they contained an anti-clumping agent made with wood pulp ( In re 100 Percent Grated Parmesan Cheese Mktg. and Sales Prac. Litig. , N.D. Ill., No. 16-5802, 8/24/17 ).

Plaintiffs also sued Albertsons Cos., Supervalu Inc., Target Corp., ICCO-Cheese Co., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., and Publix Super Markets Inc., alleging they overpaid for a product they thought was nothing but cheese.

But the ingredient lists foil the plaintiffs’ claims, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois said Aug. 24.

The descriptor “100 percent Grated Parmesan Cheese” is ambiguous on its own, the court said.

Although it could mean all cheese and nothing else, it also could mean that 100 percent of the cheese is Parmesan cheese, or that the Parmesan cheese is 100 percent grated, the court said.

Consumers, therefore, would need additional information before concluding the products were just cheese.

And they would look to the ingredient lists, each of which says cellulose is added to the product to prevent caking, the court said.

Cellulose is a common food additive made from wood pulp.

‘Blue, Green, or Black Fuzz’

The court was skeptical of the plaintiffs’ nothing-but-cheese interpretation.

“The products are packaged and shelf-stable at room temperature, whereas consumers know “pure dairy products spoil, grow blue, green, or black fuzz, or otherwise become inedible if left unrefrigerated for an extended period of time,” the court said.

The court nevertheless gave the plaintiffs an opportunity to amend their complaints.

Some 50 suits were consolidated in the Northern District of Illinois before Judge Gary Feinerman.

The suits followed a Bloomberg News investigation that asked an independent laboratory to test store-bought Parmesan cheese, and found cellulose levels of up to 8.8 percent.

Barnow and Associates P.C. and Finkelstein Blankinship, Frei- Pearson & Garber LLP represented the plaintiffs.

Jenner & Block LLP and others represented Kraft Heinz.

To contact the reporter on this story: Julie A. Steinberg in Washington at jsteinberg@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Patrick at spatrick@bna.com

For More Information

Full text at http://src.bna.com/rXn.

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Request Litigation on Bloomberg Law