The Nutella lawsuit isn’t frivolous. It’s critical.


My friend Caroline, an attorney, recently brought to my attention a lawsuit that’s against Nutella (well, more accurately, against Ferrero, the makers of Nutella.  They also make Ferrero Rocher Chocolates, Kinder Chocolates, and Tic Tacs). Here’s the full complaint.

Caroline thinks the lawsuit is frivolous, and if you read some commentary on it around the ‘net, you’ll see that a lot of other folks think it’s frivolous, too.

I disagree.

But before I get into that, let me take a step back. Last October I attended the BlogHer Food conference. One of the sponsors was Nutella, and — full disclosure — the “goody bag” that I took home included a free jar. A few weeks later, I received an email from a marketing company that represents the Nutella brand.

They touted the Build Your Own Breakfast gimmick tool on the Nutella website, which is “an interactive exercise that lets consumers experiment with various breakfast combinations and compare basic nutrient values.”  Presumably, Nutella thinks their product should be a part of that breakfast.

This wasn’t an email blast; it was a hand-crafted message sent from the contact form on my site. They asked if I would be interested in collaborating on any projects with them.

Here’s my reply:

Although I think Nutella is a delicious treat which I may enjoy on occasion, I strongly disagree with Nutella’s encouragement of including your product in an everyday breakfast. As I’m sure you’re aware, the first ingredient in your product is sugar, followed second by oil.

If Nutella were made only of Hazelnuts (as the first ingredient), and a low-sugar chocolate (as the second ingredient), that might be a different story.  But as it stands now, the product, in my opinion, is candy — and should not be considered a healthful food nor should it be encouraged as part of a “balanced breakfast.”

They never responded.

See, here’s the thing. Food companies spend billions and billions of dollars advertising their products, which, of course, they have the right to do.  But when you look at the advertising, it’s often misleading (at best) and can be downright lies (at worst).

I’ve said before that personal (and parental) responsibility is absolutely important — critical, even — but that can’t possibly be the end of the story. People need to be empowered with both tools and knowledge to be able to take responsibility. There’s an enormous conflict of interest when the manufacturers of “junk food” are the ones supplying those tools and knowledge. There needs to be a level playing field, and right now the odds are tipped far, far away from the consumer.

My belief is that legislation and regulation isn’t working well enough to change the food/business landscape. Other consumers agree, and they’re turning to the only other option available to them: Lawsuits.

If that’s how things have to get done in America, then so be it.  The health and the future of our nation is at stake, and that’s anything but frivolous.

Photo by swnktstic.

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