Barilla pasta is facing an interesting class action out of California after Matthew Sinatro and Jessica Prost sued over the claim on every box as “Italy’s No. 1 brand of pasta.” The problem is that the pasta is actually made in Iowa and New York.
The plaintiffs argue that “consumers willingly pay more for Italian sounding and/or looking products,” and such products are known to use Italian durum wheat considered ideal for pasta. However, they charge that the company is making the pasta domestically and using non-Italian durum wheat. With the use of the Italian flag and marketing imagery, they allege that the company is clearly leading consumers to believe the false suggestion that this is a product made in Italy.
Barilla filed a motion to dismiss and stressed that consumers are expressly told on its website that the products are produced in Iowa and New York as well as Canada.
The website stresses “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.”
That was not enough for U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna M. Ryu who handed down a mixed ruling. Ryu held that Sinatro and Prost have suffered injury in purchasing boxes of Barilla pasta of angel hair and spaghetti respectively for $2.00 per box in California. She granted and denied parts of the motion to dismiss.
In a critical ruling, Ryu held:
Barilla asks the court to decide as a matter of law that the Challenged Representation can mean only one thing. However, Plaintiffs have alleged that the Challenged Representation appears with the colors of the Italian flag, and that this imagery further reinforces the notion that the products “are authentic pastas from Italy.” See FAC ¶ 2. The Challenged Representation is also part of the products’ packaging in the context of an alleged marketing campaign that emphasizes the company’s Italian identity, including a website “that markets the Barilla® brand and company as undeniably Italian, dedicated to the manufacturing, marketing, and selling of Italian-made pastas.” See id. at ¶¶ 16, 18-20. Viewed in this context, the FAC plausibly alleges that the Challenged Representation supports a reasonable inference that the products were made in Italy from Italian ingredients, and “a probability that a significant portion of the general consuming public or of targeted consumers, acting reasonably in the circumstances, could be misled” by the Challenged Representation.
While denying injunctive relief and rejecting the applicability of some precedent to support the complaint, the court will allow the plaintiffs to file an amended complaint and the case can now go forward with claims under California’s unfair competition and business practices laws, false advertising, breach of warranty, and unjust enrichment.
Here is the ruling: Order on Motion to Dismiss