Weighing in on a pasta advertising dispute, the National Advertising Division (NAD) recommended that Goya Foods discontinue claims that its Excelsior brand pasta was “Puerto Rico’s favorite pasta” in a challenge brought by Riviana Foods, the maker of competing brand Ronzoni.

Riviana claimed that Goya failed to substantiate the “La Pasta Favorite de Puerto Rico” claims that appeared on product packaging and in social media posts and YouTube videos: “¡¡¡Solo lo major para tu familia con la calidad de pastas que solo la pasta favorite de Puerto Rico te puede dar!!! (Only the best for your family with the pasta quality that only Puerto Rico’s favorite pasta can give you!!!)” and “¡Oigan! Saben cuai es la pasta favorite de Puerto Rico? ¡Claro! ¡Las pastas Excelsior! (Listen! Do you know what is Puerto Rico’s favorite pasta? Of course! Pasta Excelsior!).”

The advertiser told the self-regulatory body that the claim of “Puerto Rico’s favorite pasta” standing alone and appearing alongside superlatives such as “delicious” and “best for your family” constituted mere puffery, lacking any specific, measurable product attributes.

Goya pointed to a 2004 decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit in American Italian Pasta Company v. New World Pasta Companywhere the court held that the phrase “America’s Favorite Pasta” was nonactionable puffery.

The NAD disagreed. “‘Favorite’ is defined as ‘[a] person or thing that is preferred to all others of the same kind or is especially well liked,’” the NAD wrote. “Also, by referencing Puerto Rico, Goya has clearly defined the market in which the preference claim applies. Nothing in the challenged advertising signals to consumers that Excelsior is anything but the preferred pasta brand in Puerto Rico.”

Accordingly, the NAD found that the advertising reasonably conveyed a message that Excelsior is preferred to all other pasta brands in Puerto Rico.

“Consumers can reasonably interpret the claim to mean that Excelsior is the favorite brand in Puerto Rico and not simply a brand that consumers in Puerto Rico like,” the NAD said. “As NAD recognizes, such brand preference claims are objectively measurable.”

The NAD was not persuaded by Goya’s attempt to distinguish its use of the Spanish word, finding no specific reason why “favorita” would be understood by Spanish-speaking consumers any differently from how English-speaking consumers would understand “favorite.”

Nor did the presence of superlatives such as “delicious” alter the message of the claim, the NAD said. “The advertising, instead, presents ‘quality’ and ‘variety’ as particular reasons why Excelsior would be Puerto Rico’s favorite pasta,” according to the decision, reinforcing the message that there is an objective reason why Excelsior is Puerto Rico’s favorite.

“Highlighting those positive attributes ties them to a reason why consumers prefer Excelsior pasta and contributes to the net impression that consumers in Puerto Rico prefer Excelsior to all other brands,” the NAD wrote. “Accordingly, NAD determined that all of the challenged advertising where ‘Puerto Rico’s Favorite Pasta’ appears, including on product packaging, in online videos, in captions to videos, and in other social media posts, reasonably conveys the objectively provable message that consumers in Puerto Rico prefer Excelsior brand over other pasta brands.”

As Goya did not provide any evidence that Excelsior brand pasta is preferred by consumers in Puerto Rico over all other pasta brands, the NAD recommended that the advertiser discontinue its claim throughout the challenged advertising that Excelsior brand pasta is “Puerto Rico’s Favorite Pasta.”

To read the NAD’s press release about the decision, click here.

Why it matters: The NAD found that the challenged claims reasonably conveyed a message that consumers prefer Excelsior pasta over all other pastas in Puerto Rico and that Goya failed to substantiate the claims. In its advertiser’s statement, Goya indicated that it will appeal the NAD’s decision to the National Advertising Review Board, stating that the self-regulatory body’s decision is “at odds with federal court precedent.”