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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Mrs. Q
February 18, 2011 7:41 pm

Good post!

February 18, 2011 11:52 am

Sorry Andrew, I have to disagree with you on this one.

You said so yourself — the first ingredient listed is sugar, followed by oil. There is nothing deceptive here. The words “sugar” and “oil” are pretty easy to understand by the average consumer. The plaintiff in the lawsuit couldn’t be bothered to read the label, yet listened to and absorbed the advertising? It just doesn’t add up.

Also, the Build Your Breakfast tool doesn’t seem that bad because it tells you the nutritional value of your different options! They aren’t hiding the ball.

I think an advertisement that a product is “fortified with vitamins” is more misleading because it implies that the food itself has some special nutritional value. Nutella isn’t doing that. They are just saying that it could be a breakfast option.

This lawsuit is LAME

Casey@Good. Food. Stories.
February 18, 2011 9:05 am

(Full disclosure – I’ve been eating that free jar of Nutella from the conference.) I have mixed feelings about this lawsuit – yes, we should all take personal responsibility for what we put into our bodies and yes, Nutella is far from the only company with misleading advertising. I want there to be greater awareness of what Big Food is telling us, but is Nutella the right target? Why NOT General Mills, for example? Would that grab more headlines and raise the conversation level?

ACC Chiro
ACC Chiro
February 18, 2011 7:44 am

But 2 tablespoons of Nutella is a healthy part of a balanced breakfast. As long as it replaces 2 tablespoons of poison, and doesn’t add to an increase in total calories.

February 17, 2011 9:28 pm

I wholeheartedly agree, Andrew! Advertising for the big food manufacturers mislead consumers time and time again. When I have to put out product or straighten up our market section at work, I sigh when I’m reading the lies on the boxes. I mentioned in a recent post on my site that if anything has to be “fortified” with vitamins and minerals, it can’t be good for you. In fact, I’ve been known to yell at the commercials on TV. I now distract myself so I’m not paying attention to them at all.

Jackie Blake
Jackie Blake
February 17, 2011 7:02 pm

Well, if you’re going after nutella then you better go after General Mills, Kellog’s and Post cereals. THEY are certainly not healthy. If my children decide to eat their Norwegian pancakes with bananas and nutella rolled in them, it’s surely a whole lot healthier than the trash CEREAL those companies sell. False advertising is rampant, not just with nutella. Nutella is just doing what every other company is doing. Formula companies scare moms; diaper companies make moms feel guilty; clothing companies make people feel frumpy.

Veggie Val
February 17, 2011 5:07 pm

I usually hate to hear about frivolous lawsuits and wonder why humans can’t seem to work things out amongst themselves, but the current structure of society pushes us to litigation in all kinds of areas. After some thought, I agree with Andrew, but more for the idea that it wakes us up to discussion and awareness of what’s going on in the Humongous American Food Machine. Tweeted and shared on FB. Thanks, again, Andrew for putting the ideas out there for us to consider.

February 17, 2011 4:11 pm

Funny you wrote about this. Last week I was at the grocery store and saw nutella on sale. I’ve eaten nutella all about 4 times in my life (and it’s yummy!) So I picked up the jar, read: sugar, palm oil, sighed, and put it right back down.

February 17, 2011 3:53 pm

Already this country is starting to sue itself into a horribly downward spiral of never ending suits and appeals. It’s happening everywhere and all of the time in countless different parts of life. Personal responsibility trumps the “I’ve been damaged” card in cases like these when there are little to no tangible damages. It MUST be personal responsibility to read the label and make an educated choice, regardless of what their advertising alleges. The “Average American” absolutely is knowledgeable enough to make some sort of informed choice with regard to his/her nutritional choices. Frankly I think the lawsuit approach is just another continuation of people giving up on personal health and social responsibility. I agree with Caroline 100% (and not because I live with her). And…scene. 🙂

February 17, 2011 3:40 pm

Sigh. I love nutella. But I completely agree with you and kudos to you for telling the company what you really think. Plus really good point about lawsuits doing what regulators won’t. How sad is that? In my efforts to eat unprocessed, I’ve been incorporating “raw days,” just one day a week where i eat 100% Raw. My first day was spent eating raw veggies non-stop like a starving crazy person, so i’ve looked into more filling items to add to these days and to my surprise I’ve found a slew of raw convenience items, including: Rawtella. I haven’t bought it yet, but i’m tempted to. One thing that scares me though is ending up eating a lot of Raw processed food, which will undo all my efforts, but how tasty does this product sound? I better find my own recipe.