A proposed class action lawsuit claims M&M’s vanilla ice cream bars contain less real vanilla than represented on the product’s labels. Defendant Mars, Inc., according to the suit, has charged a premium price for the dessert based on customers’ false belief that the ice cream bars’ vanilla flavoring was sourced from real vanilla beans.
“The Products are misleading because they do not contain the amount, type and percentage of vanilla as a component of the flavoring in the ice cream, which is required and consistent with consumer expectations,” the 33-page lawsuit claims.
The case alleges M&M’s bars, despite prevalent statements on their packaging that the product is made with “vanilla reduced fat ice cream,” are actually flavored predominantly with vanillin, a synthetic imitation vanilla flavor that “has no connection to the vanilla bean.” Under federal law, the presence of non-vanilla vanillin must be disclosed on a product’s labeling as an artificial flavor, the suit says. According to the complaint, however, Mars indicates the presence of non-vanilla flavors by listing “natural flavor” in the product’s ingredients list. The lawsuit claims this designation refers to a vanilla-vanillin combination that is not exclusively vanilla. From the complaint:
“Where a product is labeled as a type of, or containing, vanilla ice cream, without any or adequate qualification, but the ingredient list identifies ‘natural flavor’ it means (1) the flavoring is not exclusively from vanilla, (2) the non-vanilla flavor likely contains vanillin, not disclosed as an artificial flavor when paired with real vanilla, (3) the non-vanilla flavors simulate, resemble and reinforce the vanilla flavor and (4) the use of these non-vanilla flavors allow the use of less real vanilla.”
The case argues that if the M&M’s bars had been flavored exclusively with vanilla, the ingredients list would have declared the “common or usual names” of the vanilla ingredients, such as vanilla extract, concentrated vanilla extract, vanilla flavoring, and concentrated vanilla flavoring. According to the complaint, the product should have been more accurately described on packaging as “vanilla bean flavored ice cream,” or another similar term, in order to convey that the ice cream flavor was sourced from non-vanilla ingredients.
According to the suit, consumers would not have purchased M&M’s ice cream bars had they known the real source of the product’s vanilla flavor.