Really cheesy or the real deal?
By Brian Kabateck
A Florida woman is suing Kraft Heinz Food Company for at least $5 million in statutory and punitive damages over “misleading” claims on mac and cheese packaging.
Amanda Ramirez of Hialeah, FL alleges that preparing Velveeta Shells and Cheese takes substantially longer than the 3.5 minutes advertised on the box.
The suit, filed November 18th in U.S. District Court Southern District of Florida, contends that 3.5 minutes accounts for the time it takes to cook the meal in the microwave, not the entire preparation process. The plaintiff argues the whole process involves several steps, including removing the lid, adding water, heating in the microwave, stirring the powdered cheese into the cooked pasta, and allowing it to stand so the sauce can thicken. She did not specify the total realistic prep time.
Ramirez’s suit contends the product commands a “premium price” based on the package’s promise that it’s “ready in 3 ½ minutes.” According to the complaint, is selling the product “approximately no less than $10.99 for eight 2.39 oz cups, excluding tax and sales,” which is “higher than similar products represented in a non-misleading way” and “higher than it would be sold for absent the misleading representations and omissions.”
Ramirez’s legal team says that, like many consumers, the Ramirez family “seek to stretch their money as far as possible when buying groceries” and were persuaded to buy Velveeta over comparable products on the market specifically because of the quick, convenient prep time advertised on its label. Her lawyers say she wouldn’t have purchased the Velveeta brand if she’d known the truth, which suggests the food giant is making higher sales due to fraudulent labeling.
Ramirez is suing Kraft Heinz “individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated,” so the case could lead to a class action settlement.
Ramirez’s West Palm Beach attorney, Will Wright, told media outlets that he understands why some people may view this case as having less merit than others they’ve worked on, such as arsenic found in baby food, but, he says, “We don’t feel corporations should get a pass for any deceptive advertising. We are striving for something better. We want corporate America to be straightforward and truthful in advertising their products,” said Wright.
While, on the surface, this case may seem cheesy, there’s a serious principle at stake. It goes far beyond whether it takes 3 ½ or 4 ½, or 20 minutes to make the creamy orange “Liquid Gold” noodles: bogus claims that trick people into buying products violate consumer protection laws and erode consumer trust. If you can’t believe the marketing claims on a product’s package, how can you trust more critical details on the label, such as the ingredients list or nutrition information?
Ramirez says she’s always thought of Kraft Heinz as an honest company that makes high-quality products. She even looks forward to buying Velveeta’s Shells and Cheese again—but only when she’s confident she can rely on the package information.