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June 29, 2020

Haagen-Dazs Allegedly Cuts Corners With Milk Chocolate

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:39 am

Haagen-Dazs is one of the premier brands of ice cream, so it is surprising to hear of a lawsuit alleging that the company is cutting corners on the milk chocolate it uses to coat its ice cream bars.

Haagen-Dazs bars

According to the complaint, the company mixes in coconut oil to the milk chocolate.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Haagen-Dazs ingredients

And under federal regulations, if milk chocolate has an optional ingredient in it like vegetable oil, then it must be labeled as “milk chocolate and vegetable fat coating” or “milk chocolate and ___ oil coating.”

The problem is that Haagen-Dazs doesn’t do that on the principal display panel, but only in the fine print ingredients statement.

As such, the lawsuit contends that consumers are misled, they wouldn’t have paid as much for the product, or would not have purchased it all.

For its part, Froneri, US Inc., the maker of these chocolate bars, said “The labels on our Häagen-Dazs ice cream bar products accurately describe the products, comply with FDA regulations, and provide consumers with the information they need to make informed purchasing decisions.”

Companies have to use an emulsifying agent like coconut oil to more easily coat the ice cream in a hard chocolate layer.

We’ll let you know how the case turns out.

Hat tip to Truth in Advertising for the case.




• • •

June 8, 2020

Where’s the Honey in Honey Bunches of Oats?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:43 am

Honey Bunches of OatsFor years, we’ve all seen the commercials for Post’s Honey Bunches of Oats cereal where the female assembly line worker waxes poetic about her crispy crunchy bunches.

Last year, a health-conscious California consumer bought a box of this cereal thinking that honey would be a more healthy sweetener to have rather than sugar or corn syrup. Soon thereafter he learned (probably from a class action lawyer rather than a nutritionist) that the product in fact had almost no honey.

A check of the ingredients statement on the side of the package revealed the not-so-sweet truth.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Honey Bunches of Oats Ingredients

There are three other sweeteners in the product — sugar, corn syrup and molasses — all of which are in greater amounts than any honey. In fact, there was more salt in the cereal than honey. (Barley malt extract is also a sweetener, incidentally.)

So our consumer sued Post claiming false advertising and misrepresentation. He believed the packaging conveyed the impression that honey was either the only sweetener or certainly a significant one in the product.

Post argued among other things that no reasonable consumer would understand that the cereal’s packaging was making a claim about the amount of honey in the product. MrConsumer always loves when a company tries to assert that only stupid consumers would believe the baloney the manufacturer shows and tells them right on the package.

The company asked the judge to dismiss the case, but she sided with the consumer in her procedural decision.

In applying the reasonable consumer standard, however, the packaging must be considered in context. That is, the image of a radiating sun, the words “HONEY BUNCHES OF OATS,” and the honey dipper dripping honey occupy about two-thirds of the front of the packaging. Although the package does not make any objective representations about the amount of honey in the cereal, a reasonable consumer could see the prominent honey-related words and imagery and be deceived into thinking the cereal contained relatively less refined sugar and more honey. If so misled, the reasonable consumer is not expected to pick up the product and examine the fine print of the ingredient list. –Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, U.S. District Court

And so the case moves forward. We’ll keep you “Posted,” so to speak.




• • •

April 27, 2020

Is a Hamburger Legally a Steak?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:41 am

Back in 2017, several consumers sued Dunkin’ Donuts in a class action lawsuit alleging that the company’s Angus Steak and Egg sandwich really contained a ground beef patty rather than a solid piece of steak.

Dunkin' Steak & Egg

In commercials for the product, Dunkin’ repeatedly referred to the sandwich as containing “steak.”

*MOUSE PRINT:

None — they did not make any type of disclosure that it really was a ground beef patty.

The consumers in the case argued that this was a misrepresentation, they didn’t get what they paid for, and they would have paid less had they known they were going to be served a chopped meat sandwich rather than a solid piece of Angus steak.

The lower court dismissed the suit, and the appeals court agreed in a March 2020 decision. That court quoted the definition of steak from the dictionary, in part saying:

Moreover, while the word “steak” can refer to “a slice of meat,” it is also defined as “ground beef prepared for cooking or for serving in the manner of a steak.” Classic examples of ground beef served as “steak” include chopped steak, hamburger steak, and Salisbury steak.

The court concluded that no reasonable consumer would expect to be served a piece of solid steak for the $2-$4 price that Dunkin’ was charging:

As the television advertisements themselves demonstrate, the Products are marketed as grab-and-go products that can be consumed in hand, without the need for a fork and knife. A reasonable consumer purchasing one of the Products from Dunkin Donuts in that context would not be misled into thinking she was purchasing an “unadulterated piece of meat.”

MrConsumer has to disagree. If he walked into a sub shop and ordered a steak and peppers sub, he would expect to get solid pieces of meat, or at a minimum shaved slices of beef, but not hamburger meat. Dunkin’ had to know that by calling their product a steak sandwich, some number of customers — maybe even the majority — might reasonably believe they would be getting a solid meat sandwich.




• • •

April 6, 2020

Is This the Way to Give Workers a Bonus?

Filed under: Business,Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:37 am

No doubt, many people are facing personal financial hardships because they have lost their job or are working reduced hours. But many companies are stepping up continuing to pay workers or even offering extra pay.

One such company is the closeout retail chain Ocean State Job Lot (OSJL) with 139 stores throughout the Northeast. In an email to customers last week, their CEO told of hundreds of thousands of dollars of in-kind contributions of food and protective medical equipment their company has made.

He also noted a $2 an hour pay increase for workers, an additional bonus, and a more generous employee discount program.

There was one unusual disclosure in the letter, however.

*MOUSE PRINT:

OSJL- letter

The company is financing the bonus to employees by automatically tacking on a two-percent surcharge to every shopper’s bill at the checkout. While you can opt-out, how many people even realize that they are being surcharged in the first place? Many won’t see the signs nor have carefully read the email. And how awkward and embarrassing to have to say to the very person this money is intended to help that you don’t want to contribute.

While we applaud OSJL for its very generous contributions to hospitals and veterans organizations, in our view, the customer contribution for an employee bonus should be voluntary — opt-in — just like this chain does for the other causes it asks customers to support during the year.

Contrast their surcharge approach with the voluntary method being taken by the Daily Table in Boston. Their nonprofit mini-supermarkets, created by the former CEO of Trader Joe’s, buy soon-to-expire food from manufacturers and stores. They cook some of it and prepare single-portion meals for the lower-income shoppers that frequent their stores. Last week, the Daily Table sent out an urgent email plea to customers asking them to help pay their employees an emergency aid bonus of $2 an hour which was not in their budget. MrConsumer was happy to contribute.

So what do you think? Should stores be able to automatically tack on a surcharge to their customers’ bills to help finance an employee bonus, or should they simply just ask shoppers to support their employees through voluntary contributions?




• • •

March 23, 2020

Sometimes No Disclosure Is Better

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:06 am

Who would think that Mouse Print* would ever say that less disclosure can sometimes be better than more disclosure? There aren’t too many cases where this is true, but here is one of them.

In preparation for St. Patrick’s Day two weeks ago, MrConsumer checked out the bargains on corned beef at various local supermarkets. Point cut corned beef was on sale for between $1.47 and $1.69 a pound at the low end. As we have shown before, the name of the game when buying cheap corned beef is to check how much water (“solution”) is injected into the beef.

Here are a couple of brands that have 35% water. In other words, you are paying $1.49 a pound for packages that are one-third water and only two-thirds beef.

corned beef

corned beef

MrConsumer did not want to be burned again by those brands, so he hightailed it over to another store offering corned beef for $1.69 a pound. When he looked to see how much water was injected into the brands they carried, the information was conspicuously missing.

*MOUSE PRINT:

corned beef packages

Where was the percentage disclosure like the other brands had? It was nowhere on these packages. I asked the meat man if he knew (he didn’t) and whether he could check the carton. There was no disclosure there either. So, what would you do? Buy one of the unmarked packages and take a chance or take a pass? I left the store corned beef-less.

Since one of the brands was made in Massachusetts, I called headquarters to ask the million dollar question. After about 10 minutes of the receptionist presumably trying to find someone who knew the answer, she finally came back on the line and said “20-percent.”

Why didn’t the company put this on the label? It is a big selling point compared to the competition.

The answer is they don’t have to when the product complies with the federal standard of identity for corned beef which allows, by definition, for there to be up to 20% water in raw corned beef.

*MOUSE PRINT:

§ 319.101 Corned beef brisket.
In preparing “Corned Beef Brisket,” the application of curing solution to the beef brisket shall not result in an increase in the weight of the finished cured product of more than 20 percent over the weight of the fresh uncured brisket.

Only if a product like corned beef does not meet the standard of identity (20% or less of water) does there have to be a clear disclosure on the principal display panel as part of the name stating the percentage of water/solution in the product, as the top group of products shows. [See 9 CFR § 317.2 (e)(2)(i)]

So there you have it. Because the two unlabeled brands above did not exceed the amount of water allowed, they didn’t have to tell consumers how much was actually in it (although it really would have been smart to do so). In this case then, buying raw corned beef with no disclosure is a smarter move than purchasing the ones that tell you how much water has been injected.




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