Sacramento Business Journal Quotes Benjamin Abel on Vanilla Labeling Cases

October 17, 2019

The Sacramento Business Journal turned to Charlottesville, Virginia, associate Benjamin Abel for insight on recent class action lawsuits alleging that labeling claims about natural vanilla flavoring are false or misleading. Abel, who focuses on product and consumer litigation, is a member of the firm’s food and beverage industry team.

The Oct. 3 story was based on a lawsuit against Sacramento-based Blue Diamond Growers over vanilla flavoring in its packaged foods, the latest in a series of recent class actions alleging false or misleading claims about vanilla labeling. Abel and McGuireWoods colleagues James Neale, R. Trent Taylor and Eric Fleming wrote about this emerging trend in a July 31 legal alert, “New Flavor of Labeling Lawsuits: Plaintiffs Allege False Vanilla Claims.”

Abel told the Business Journal that these types of lawsuits against food manufacturers have become commonplace. He cited a recent case in Massachusetts in which a court dismissed claims that a honey-flavored cereal was marketed deceptively because honey wasn’t the primary sweetener. The court determined that “a reasonable consumer” would understand that the “honey” on the label refers to the flavor rather than the primary ingredient, he explained.

“Trials in the food and beverage world with a class action of this type are exceedingly rare,” Abel said.

But all food manufacturers should be aware of these suits, he added.

“Obviously, if the suit is ultimately successful, that would have a large impact on the way specifically vanilla would be labeled, or should be labeled,” he said.