A Vermont man claims in a proposed class action lawsuit that Ben & Jerry’s ice cream products are not made from milk and cream sourced exclusively from “happy cows” on “Caring Dairy” farms as represented on product labels. The lawsuit alleges that the bulk of the dairy products used to make the defendants’ ice cream is instead sourced from “factory-style, mass-production dairy operations” that Ben & Jerry’s customers specifically attempt to avoid when choosing the brand.
Filed against Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc. and Conopco Inc. (which does business as Unilever United States), the 23-page complaint claims Ben & Jerry’s had built a reputation in Vermont as a “socially conscious” independent company before being acquired by Unilever in 2000. After the acquisition, Unilever, the case alleges, attempted to “capitalize on the goodwill that Ben & Jerry’s earned” by representing the brand’s ice cream products as being made with milk and cream sourced exclusively from farms that participate in a humane “Caring Dairy” program.
According to the lawsuit, Ben & Jerry’s product labels display various references to “happy cows” from which the ingredients in the ice cream are purportedly sourced. A message on the back of the labels goes so far as to direct customers to learn more about the “happy cow” assurances by visiting benjerry.com. On the website, Unilever explains that the “happy cows” depicted on Ben & Jerry’s ice cream labels come from farms that participate in the Caring Dairy program, which the defendants describe as “a program for evaluating, implementing and continuously improving sustainable agricultural practices on [members’] farms,” the suit explains.
The case further elaborates that Caring Dairy farms are verified by a third party who determines whether they meet certain standards for “Cow Care,” “Planet Stewardship,” and “Farmer & Farm Worker.” To the consumer, the lawsuit argues, these representations can be interpreted to mean that Ben & Jerry’s ice cream products are superior to other brands in that they are sourced from humanely treated cows. From the complaint:
“Taken together, Unilever’s representations about the ‘Caring Dairy’ program, which are offered to explain the ‘happy cows’ of the Products’ packaging, are intended to, and do, portray to consumers an image of animal husbandry that is more environmentally friendly and humane than regular factory-style, mass-production dairy operations.”
The case argues, however, that only a “minority percentage” of the dairy products in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream are sourced from Caring Dairy-verified farms. The lawsuit claims that non-party St. Albans Cooperative Creamery, Inc., the dairy cooperative from which Ben & Jerry’s sources its milk, does not separate milk from Caring Dairy farms and milk from “factory-style, mass-production” dairy operations that employ “intensive cow confinement practices and extensive antibiotic use.”
The reality, according to the lawsuit, is that “only some” of the dairy products used in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream come from the purportedly “happy cows” on Caring Dairy farms. The plaintiff, a Vermont resident and long-time purchaser of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream products, says he and other consumers have purchased ice cream products that were “sold at prices above their true market value” after relying on the defendants’ allegedly false representations.
The lawsuit looks to cover anyone who purchased Ben & Jerry’s products “during the applicable limitations period” for personal use.