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A Florida woman accuses Kraft Heinz of misleading advertising, based on how long it takes to make a single-serving cup of macaroni and cheese in the microwave.
While the company markets its Velveeta shells and cheeses as “ready in 3 1/2” minutes, Amanda Ramirez says that’s only the time each cup needs to be microwaved – and the actual preparation process , to stir in the water to let the cheese sauce thicken, takes longer (she doesn’t specify how much).
A 15 page class action filing earlier this month alleges parent company Kraft Heinz sells more product, and at a higher price, than it would if it didn’t mislead consumers about pasta preparation time.
“Because of the false and misleading statements, the Product is sold at a higher price, approximately not less than $10.99 for eight 2.39 oz. cups, excluding taxes and sales, above that of similar products, represented non-misleadingly, and for more than it would have sold but for the misleading representations and omissions,” the court filing reads.
Ramirez’s legal team says she’s like many consumers who “look to stretch their money as much as possible when buying groceries” and chose Velveeta over other similar products because preparation time promised prominently on its label. She wouldn’t have bought it “if she had known the truth”, they say.
The lawsuit seeks more than $5 million in damages and seeks to cover consumers in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, New Mexico, of Alaska, Iowa, Tennessee and Virginia who purchased the mac and cheese cups during the applicable statute of limitations. period. There are over 100 such customers as the product is sold online and in stores across the country.
The Kraft Heinz Company called the lawsuit “frivolous” in a statement provided to NPR, saying it “will strongly defend itself against the allegations in the lawsuit.”
While some might be quick to dismiss the case as corny, Ramirez’s team says it’s important to hold companies accountable in all their forms. Will Wright, one of Ramirez’s attorneys, told NPR via email that while he received criticism over the case, “misleading advertising is misleading advertising.”
“There are a lot of people who may think this is just a little lie and not really a case and I understand that,” he wrote. “But we’re striving for something better. We want American companies to be direct and honest in advertising their products.”
He added: “My firm also represents clients in what most would say are more compelling cases (arsenic in baby food etc.) but we don’t think companies should get a pass for any misleading advertising. Consumers deserve better.”
It’s a matter of trust, says the lawsuit
Velveeta’s claim that a cup of mac will be ready in 3.5 minutes is false and misleading because the microwave is only one of many necessary steps, according to the lawsuit.
There are four steps listed in the instructions on the back of the package: remove lid and cheese sauce pouch, add water to fill line and stir, microwave for 3 1 /2 minutes then stir in the cheese sauce, which the instructions note. “will thicken by standing.”
Therefore, according to the lawsuit, the product could not be ready to eat in just 210 seconds, and the label would only be accurate if it stated that the snack took 3.5 minutes in the microwave.
He adds that Ramirez believed Kraft Heinz fairly represented his product in part because it was “a trusted company known for high-quality products that are honestly marketed to consumers.”
“Defendant’s representations and omissions regarding the product went beyond the specific representations on the packaging, as they incorporated the extra-label promises and commitments to quality, transparency and customer focus, for which it was known,” he said.
In fact, the lawsuit states that Ramirez fully intends to purchase this same product again “when she can do so with assurance that its depictions are constitutive of her abilities, attributes, and/or composition.”
Until then, he adds, she cannot trust the labeling and marketing of not just this microwave-safe mac, but other similar products that claim they will be ready in a specific time frame, “because she does not know if these representations are true.”
It’s unclear where Ramirez’s case will go from here. Wright thinks the most likely scenario is that Kraft will file a motion to dismiss in a few weeks, which his team will oppose. Then, he says, “the judge will let us know what he thinks of our case.”
Ramirez is working with a lawyer known for his food marketing lawsuits
Another member of Ramirez’s legal team is Spencer Sheehan, a New York-based plaintiffs attorney who in recent years has filed hundreds of lawsuits alleging misleading claims in food advertising and packaging.
As NPR reportedSheehan files about three such lawsuits a week, and “his prolificacy has almost single-handedly caused a historic increase in the number of class action lawsuits against food and beverage companies — up more than 1000% since 2008.”
Sheehan has filed more than 100 lawsuits alleging that various products, from soda to soymilk, market “vanilla” products that actually use synthetic vanilla or other flavorings in addition to or instead of the vanilla bean plus Dear.
Some of his other recent cases include accusing Frito-Lay of not using enough real lime juice in his Tostito “just a hint of lime” chips (Status: Pending) and alleging that Kellogg misrepresents the amount of fruit in its strawberry pies (a the federal judge rejected it earlier this year). Many of his cases are “voluntarily dismissed” – presumably settled – rather than going to trial.
As Sheehan told NPR last October, “I guess I’ve always been one to be bored [and] I never liked companies cheating people for small amounts that would be hard to recover.”