Class action sees conflict between packaging and ingredient list

Fake Out

Here’s a refreshing change of pace in alt-milk-related legislation: An almond milk manufacturer is being sued – but not over whether or not almond milk is “really” milk.

Alternative milk (oat, almond, rice and, the granddaddy of them all, soy) has served as a popular chew toy for the litigious, mostly due to the endless tug of war over definitions between various industry players and the Feds.

So, when plaintiff June Varelli sued almond milk manufacturer Blue Diamond for allegedly misrepresenting the type of vanilla flavoring used in its Almond Breeze brand product, we were taken aback. We had already written yet another screed, mad-libs style, about the vagaries of federal milk definitions; now we had to do real work!

The Takeaway

Still, we were fine; the suit was quite simple. Varelli accused Blue Diamond of inconsistent packaging: The Almond Breeze vanilla variety establishes its vanilla pedigree through the prominent wording on the front panel of the package and the depiction of vanilla beans on the same. But the product’s ingredients list names only “natural flavor,” a catchall that includes “‘oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive ... which contains the flavoring constituents’ from a natural source such as plant material and can refer to combinations of natural flavors.”

Varelli offered up “vanilla-flavored” as a possible substitute for “vanilla” on the packaging, since the amount of vanilla in the product, she claimed, is insufficient to independently characterize the product.

Varelli’s class action, filed in the Eastern District of New York, alleged negligent misrepresentation, fraud, unjust enrichment and false advertising; and just as soon as it had arrived, confounding expectations, it disappeared. The case was voluntarily dismissed by Varelli less than two weeks after it was lodged, without any comment to suggest why the effort was abandoned.