On today’s bullseye Barilla, a $4 billon company that started in Ponte Taro, Italy back in 1877 and now sells in more than 100 countries has come under fire. The brand is the number one selling pasta in Italy but is facing a class-action lawsuit brought by two consumers who are saying that the brand’s advertising and packaging intentionally misled them to believe that the pasta was made in and imported from Italy, rather than in Iowa and New York. To be fair – the pasta packaging clearly states “Made in USA” – but the lawsuit contends that the Barilla packages features the colors of the Italian Flag. Barilla’s advertising they say, also mislead them with its slogan of “Italy’s Number 1 brand of pasta”. A federal judge actually agrees that this slogan could mislead shoppers. This lawsuit is asking the court to prohibit Barilla from using Italy’s colors and the slogan in marketing and packaging. Oh yea, and they are also seeking a payout as they said that they overpaid form the pasta. The two consumers said they purchased “multiple” boxes of Barilla and therefore are seeking damages.
For decades I have urged shoppers to read labels – and companies to be clear and accurate. And have called out companies that have not. Back in 2007 I took Elizabeth Weise grocery shopping. Beth is a national correspondent for USA Today and her cover story “Buying American? It’s not in the bag” described our almost day long shopping experience. The objective of the story was to show that it is hard to tell where food comes from. We found cheeses that looked like they came from France but were made in Wisconsin, Guacamole that purports that it was made in California but came from Mexico, an apple and caramel combo pak where the apples came from the State of Washington, but the caramel was made in Chile. As I told Beth then, and I say it here again – “it shouldn’t have to be this hard to buy our foods and know where they were made”. Is the Barilla package misleading? Is this company intentionally trying to dupe us? What kind of responsibility do we as shoppers have? These are all questions that will have to be answered in the courtroom – along with just how much pain and suffering the two claimants have endured over their purchases of several boxes.
My hope would be that brands would be more careful to not mislead – and that consumers would learn to read.