Nutella Lawsuit Latest Reminder to Question Health Claims, Read Food Labels

COMMENTARY | Ferrero, the maker of Nutella, this week settled two suits regarding its chocolate hazelnut spread. According to the New York Daily News, Ferrero agreed to pay more than $3 million to consumers nationwide and will modify its marketing, website, label, and certain claims.

It is easy to dismiss class action lawsuits as unwarranted, but this suit is a powerful reminder for consumers to remain skeptical and vigilant.

How Was Anyone Bamboozled by Nutella?

In one suit, Athena Hohenberg says health claims in ads and on the product label led her to feed Nutella to her 4-year-old until friends alerted her to its nutrition content. Since the decadent spread tastes quite similar to Ferrero Rocher candy, it seems odd for any reasonable person to consider it healthy breakfast food. However, people often compare the hazelnut spread to peanut butter, which is standard breakfast and lunch fare. It is also often shelved next to peanut butter in stores.

The questionable ads were a call for busy moms to use the sweet treat to coerce children to eat a balanced breakfast. Coating breakfast with candy doesn't sound like a great parenting move, but the marketing makes it seem like a benevolent blend of hazelnuts, skim milk, and cocoa. Unfortunately, the generous smear of Nutella prominently featured in ads and on the product label needs fruit, milk, and whole wheat bread to bolster the label's claim that it is a "tasty, yet balanced breakfast."

Kellogg's Immunity Claims

In 2009, during the midst of a flu scare, Rice Krispies cereal boxes featured a banner claiming the product helped support children's immunity. Regardless of whether the timing was opportunistic or coincidental, the Federal Trade Commission objected and barred the company from making health claims unless they were "backed by scientific evidence and not misleading." The label also led to a class action suit, which Kellogg settled for more than $2.5 million.

Consumer Responsibility

Although nutrition data is available on the product label, the grocery aisle isn't a library. Amid the hustle and bustle, it is unrealistic to scrutinize the label's truthfulness, ingredients, and nutrition content. However, shoppers must stay on guard since foodmakers continue to push boundaries in spite of financial consequences. Otherwise, you may be the one fooled by the next ridiculous marketing ploy.

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