Kraft Heinz Foods Company faces another proposed class action centered on the popular Bagel Bites pizza snack and representations on its label that concern the use of certain “real” ingredients in making the product.
The 20-page complaint, filed in Wisconsin, claims buyers are deceived by representations on the Bagel Bites label in that the snack does not contain real mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce “as these foods are understood and expected by consumers.” Noted in the case is the importance of the dairy industry to Wisconsin, which the suit says produced over a quarter of all cheese in the U.S.—more than three billion pounds—each year, with mozzarella representing “one-third” of all cheese produced in the state.
According to the lawsuit, Bagel Bites, despite what’s stated on the product’s front label, do not contain mozzarella, an absence the case says is evidenced by the fine print of the snack’s ingredients list. The suit claims Bagel Bites, in truth, contain a “cheese blend” consisting of “part-skim mozzarella cheese” and “modified food starch,” which the lawsuit stresses is not found in proper cheese.
“‘Cheese Blend’ is a deceptive name for this ingredient, because no ‘blend’ of cheese, especially ‘REAL’ mozzarella cheese, contains added starch,” the lawsuit says. “While defendant may claim that this ingredient contains part-skim mozzarella cheese and that food starch is merely added, this disregards that food starch is not a part of any mozzarella cheese or any real cheese.”
The complaint argues that it is “misleading” on the part of defendant Kraft Heinz Foods Company to “add filler ingredients to ‘cheese’ and still call the product cheese.” As the lawsuit tells it, reasonable consumers, in particular those in Wisconsin, want real mozzarella cheese in pizza given the fact that they “value (1) its soft, moist texture, (2) its milky, yet tangy taste and (3) its high protein and relatively low calories and sodium compared to other cheeses.”
Further, the case argues that the defendant’s use of the “real” dairy seal, which is owned by the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), on Bagel Bites’ packaging is misleading and enables the company to sell more products at higher prices. According to the lawsuit, the “real” dairy seal that appears on Bagel Bites packages is not the true National Milk Producers Federation seal because the organization’s traditional emblem contains no qualifying text.
The lawsuit says that when a food or dairy ingredient falls short of federal standards of identity, it can use a “modified” version of the real seal, subject to evaluation by the National Milk Producers Federation.
“Defendant’s Product does not qualify for the traditional ‘REAL’ seal because the ‘cheese blend’ contains modified food starch, an extender and filler,” the suit claims, alleging that while the organization’s guidelines might have allowed Kraft Heinz to use one of four modified “real” seals, the defendant “misappropriated” the traditional “real” seal, and added the statement “made with real cheese.”
“The use of the standard ‘REAL’ seal with the statement ‘MADE WITH REAL CHEESE’ is unauthorized by the NMPF because the Product does not contain ‘real cheese,’” the case contends. “No reasonable Wisconsin consumer expects ‘real mozzarella cheese’ to have modified food starch.”
On the claim that Bagel Bites do not contain real tomato sauce, the lawsuit says consumers expect a product purporting to contain real tomato sauce to have “tomatoes in a puree or paste form, and seasonings.” The label representations on Bagel Bites packages are “false, deceptive and misleading,” the suit alleges, in that the product’s “tomato sauce” ingredient contains non-tomato extenders and thickeners such as modified corn starch and methylcellulose.
“The fourth and sixth most predominant ingredients are ‘Modified Corn Starch’ and ‘Methylcellulose,’” the lawsuit reads. “Cornstarch and methylcellulose are common thickening agents for sauces and are added to the Product’s ‘tomato sauce’ to give the impression the sauce contains more tomatoes than it does.”
Bagel Bites buyers have paid more for the product based on the defendant’s label representations than they otherwise would have had the snack been represented in “a non-misleading way,” the case asserts.
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