Pet-food maker Blue Buffalo will pay $32 million to settle 13 consumer class action suits, the company announced last month.
The 13 class actions—which pet owners originally filed in California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Ohio, and South Carolina federal courts—were consolidated in the Eastern District of Missouri in October 2014. The consolidated action centers on Blue Buffalo’s “True Blue Promise” labels, which allegedly appeared on all Blue Buffalo products. Blue Buffalo’s True Blue Promise was that its brand of pet food contains “Only the Finest Natural Ingredients,” with
- real meat first ingredients,
- “NO Chicken or Poultry By-Product Meals,”
- “NO Corn, Wheat or Soy,” and
- “NO Artificial Preservatives, Colors or Flavors.”
These True Blue Promise claims were allegedly restated on the front and back labels of every Blue Buffalo product and in other Blue Buffalo promotional materials. The class action plaintiffs also asserted that they paid a higher price for Blue Buffalo’s products because of the True Blue Promise.
But according to the class action plaintiffs, independent tests showed that some Blue Buffalo products did, in fact, contain chicken and poultry by-products. In addition, the tests indicated the presence of rice and corn in some products, including products from Blue Buffalo’s “Wilderness” and “Freedom” product lines, which were advertised as being grain-free.
Blue Buffalo denied any wrongdoing in entering into the settlement, stating that it agreed to the settlement to eliminate the uncertainties, burden and expense of further litigation. Under the terms of the deal, Blue Buffalo will pay the $32 million into a settlement fund. From this fund, Blue Buffalo will pay its class member customers an amount of money based on the number of Blue Buffalo products they purchased during the class period, and subject to certain conditions. Attorneys’ fees and costs will also be paid from the settlement fund. The court has given the settlement agreement preliminary approval, and will hold a fairness hearing on May 19, 2016. At that time, the court will decide whether to give the settlement final approval.
This case serves as a cautionary reminder of the potential liabilities of false advertising class actions. Nestle Purina, a competing pet food maker, commented that this $32 million settlement is the largest pet food class action settlement ever. In May 2014, Nestle Purina filed a false advertising lawsuit against Blue Buffalo on the basis of similar claims. That separate false advertising case against Blue Buffalo is ongoing before the same judge who presided over the consolidated consumer class actions, Judge Rodney W. Sippel.