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Wellesley man rakes barbecue-sauce maker over the coals for using caramel coloring

barbecue sauce

Joseph Demmler of Wellesley claims he never would have purchased a bottle of Weber Real Molasses BBQ sauce - or paid as much as he did - if he'd known it was brown because of caramel coloring, so naturally he's filed a federal lawsuit.

Demmler, who buys barbecue sauce even in the winter, is seeking to become lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit for the estimated thousands of other Massachusetts residents allegedly similarly deceived by the unnatural brownness of ACH Food Companies' line, which also includes Original BBQ Sauce, Buzz’N Honey BBQ Sauce, Hickory Smoke BBQ Sauce and Kick’N Spicy BBQ Sauce. Demmler is represented by lawyers in four different states to press his Massachusetts-specific claim.

All have "All Natural" on their labels, but under FDA regulations, any addition of a coloring material, no matter how natural it may be by itself, renders a product not "natural," the suit alleges.

In his complaint, Demmler explains the reasoning behind his suit:

Plaintiff purchased the Products in December 2014 based on Defendant's representations that the Product was "All Natural," including Real Molasses BBQ Sauce. Plaintiff purchased the Products at a Stop & Shop in Framingham, Massachusetts.

The label on the Products Plaintiff purchased contained the representations that the Products are "All Natural." Plaintiff believed Defendant's representations that the Products are "All Natural" to mean that the Products did not contain any ingredients or additives that would render the Product "unnatural." The "All Natural" claims were material to Plaintiff in making his purchase decision.

Plaintiff was willing to pay more for the Products because of Defendant's representations that the Products were "All Natural." Plaintiff would not have paid as much as he did for the Products, or would have purchased alternative products, if Defendant did not claim the Products were "All Natural."

Demmler is seeking repayment for all the bottles of sauce he and other Massachusetts consumers have bought since 2011, damages and, of course, reasonable attorneys' fees and court costs.

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PDF icon Demmler's complete complaint129.28 KB

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Comments

Yes, he's looking to win the quick settlement lotto and obviously is suffering no harm for buying this.

But as consumers we need the labels to be honest. Even if the ingredients list the coloring they shouldn't claim it's something it's not on the front. It would be nice if the FDA enforced these things instead of private lawsuits but if that's what it takes so be it.

Holding these company's feet to the fire (grill?) on deceptive tactics is ultimately good for everyone.

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I recall the time I needed soy sauce on the quick and had to find some at the corner store. All they had was La Choy brand "Soy Sauce". It was not until I got home that I noticed it was not actually soy sauce at all and made with corn syrup. I was so repulsed that it went right in the trash, unopened. In hindsight I should have sued.

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"Consumer protection" lawsuits like this are for lawyers, by lawyers. The company will send a $10 coupon to everyone who bought their products in the last 3 years, and the attorneys will get a six-figure payout. Doesn't really make the world a better place.

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It still cost the company something even if the consumers don't see a nickel. A producer will do the math and calculate out how much they could get sued for falsifying a label vs how much sales would improve with a deceptive label.

Lawsuits like this make it ultimately more costly to falsify or be deceptive and thus less likely to happen. That's the win for consumers.

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Who are these people? And how do I get in on this scam?

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Run out and buy some of this BBQ sauce this afternoon :-)

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before you buy. Maybe old Joe forgot his glasses at the Stop & Shop.
However I do like that he is BBQing in December!

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Caramel is just heated sugar. Sounds natural to me.

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Caramel coloring is heated and oxidized carbohydrates. So is caramel. Just tweek the oxidation conditions a bit so that there isn't a lot of gooey sugar left. Mature caramel!

This is one of the things that wikipedia is good for: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caramel_color

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I'm no lawyer, but under what I'd consider fairness, he only deserves a refund unless he can show he was harmed in some way. No damages, and no attorney's fees. Any further fines or sanctions should come from the FDA, under any applicable FDA regulations.

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Any further fines or sanctions should come from the FDA, under any applicable FDA regulations.

If the regulators did their jobs, then we wouldn't need to be using civil litigation to hold manufacturers accountable.

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Unfortunately, the FDA does not routinely enforce their regulations or guidelines as they apply to labeling of food. This is largely left to individuals who engage class action attorneys; they essentially function as private attorneys general. As a result of this type of litigation, many food companies have stopped taking advantage of consumers' desires to purchase natural foods and have removed the misleading labels from their products.

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"All natural" means literally nothing. It's not something that anyone regulates or certifies - it's just marketing. It seems to me that the kind of person who would make a big stink about a food product's "purity" would know that, but, y'know, I'm an idealist.

EDITED TO ADD: Also, if you're that much of a prig, why don't you read labels? Cripes.

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He's willing to pay more for "all natural" but not so much more that he's willing to shop at Whole Foods, apparently.

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If the list of ingredients included caramel color, then he doesn't have a leg to stand on. If they snuck CC into the mix without saying, the suit is still frivolous, but he'll probably get a settlement since they did lie by omission.

(I searched the complaint and found no information about whether it was listed in the ingredients. THAT is the key to this whole thing!)

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