After a California woman filed a highly-publicized class action against Taco Bell late last month claiming that the fast food company misleads consumers about the make-up of its meat, the company has taken the offensive.
Declaring “Thank you for suing us,” Taco Bell took out full-page ads in national and local newspapers and online.
The suit, filed in California federal court, alleges that Taco Bell misrepresented its meat fillings by calling them “seasoned ground beef” or “seasoned beef” when in fact a “substantial” amount of the filling is actually volume-increasing extenders and other non-meat substances, such as water, isolated oat product, wheat oats, soy lecithin, maltodrextrin, anti-dusting agent, autolyzed yeast extract, modified corn starch and sodium phosphate.
Alleging violations of truth in advertising, consumer protection, and unfair competition laws, the suit seeks corrective advertising and not damages.
Taco Bell immediately responded by vowing to vigorously defend its meat, calling the suit “bogus” and “filled with completely inaccurate facts.”
The company then launched a public relations campaign that included a video from company president Greg Creed discussing the controversy, and full-page advertisements in major newspapers like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, proclaiming: “Thanks for suing us. Here’s the truth about our seasoned beef.”
The ads then state that Taco Bell’s beef recipe is 88 percent beef and 12 percent seasonings and spices (like salt, chili pepper, and onion powder), as well as water and other ingredients. “Plain ground beef tastes boring. The only reason we add anything to our beef is to give the meat flavor and quality. Otherwise we’d end up with nothing more than the bland flavor of ground beef, and that doesn’t make for great-tasting tacos,” the ad states.
To read the complaint in Obney v. Taco Bell Corporation, click here.
To view the Taco Bell ad, click here.
To watch Taco Bell President Greg Creed discuss the suit and the content of the company’s beef, click here.
Why it matters: The complaint argued that Taco Bell should more accurately label its meat “taco meat filling,” a term found in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Policy Book. The Policy Book provides guidance to help manufacturers prepare product labels and requires food labeled as “taco filling” to contain “at least 40 percent fresh meat.” Internally, Taco Bell labels its meat containers shipped to restaurants as “taco meat filling,” according to the suit. Concurrent with the ad campaign, Taco Bell released an updated statement about the suit, saying the lawyers who filed it “got their facts wrong. We take this attack on our quality very seriously and plan to take legal action against them for making false statements about our products. There is no basis in fact or reality for this suit and we will vigorously defend the quality of our products from frivolous and misleading claims such as this.” The suit faces an uphill battle, as neither the USDA nor the Federal Trade Commission have addressed how to advertise “meat” or “beef.”