A Pittsfield woman who claims she was shocked to learn that Breyers Delights Vanilla Bean Low Fat Ice Cream is not, in fact, made with vanilla beans, is now seeking more than $5 million in damages for herself and all other Massachusetts residents who should be similarly outraged at the alleged deception.
In a suit filed this week in US District Court in Boston, Heather Bernstein says she only bought the stuff - several times - "based on the representation and reasonable belief that the Vanilla Bean ice cream contained vanilla beans," specifically:
The Product's front label prominently and conspicuously displays the words "Vanilla Bean" ice cream and an image of a flowering vanilla plant that contains vanilla seeds from the vanilla pod.
The prominent and conspicuous display of the word "Vanilla Bean" on the Product's front label misleads reasonable consumer to believe that the Product contained vanilla beans as the Product's characterizing ingredient that delivers the Product's promised vanilla flavor.
Images of a flowering vanilla plant and vanilla bean pods on the Product's front label further misled Plaintiff and reasonable consumers to believe that the Product contained vanilla beans as the Product's characterizing ingredient, which delivers the Product's promised vanilla flavor.
Additionally, the Product's tiny black specks misled Plaintiff and the Class to mistakenly believe that the Product contained vanilla beans.
But the flurry of bean representations on the Breyers packaging deceived her six ways to sundae and put her in a bad humor when she looked at the ingredient list and discovered there weren't any vanilla beans, the suit continues:
In truth, however, the Product does not contain vanilla beans.
Instead, the Product is flavored by "natural flavor" that provides for the Product's characterizing vanilla flavor.
This, her suit charges, is "deceptive, misleading, and unjust" - a key phrase because, in addition to suing under federal law, she is also suing under a Massachusetts state law that prohibits "unjust enrichment" for "wrongful conduct."
Since the Product does not disclose that vanilla is a flavor and not an ingredient, the Product's labeling is not in compliance with federal food labeling laws and regulations and substantively identical state food labeling laws and regulations. ...
Any food product that is expected to contain its characterizing ingredient but does not, and instead is flavored, must disclose that fact to consumers on the Product's front label. Failure to do so misleads reasonable consumers into believing they are purchasing a food product with qualities it does not have and is in clear violation of the law.
The complaint dishes on just what's so deceptive about the packaging:
Some oil, protein, essence, or other extraction of the vanilla bean may have been used to create the Product's natural flavor. However, that natural flavor does not consist of "vanilla beans," as a reasonable consumer would understand. Instead, the scientists who created the Product's natural flavor would have isolated proteins from the vanilla bean's cells and tissue or extracted oils or essences from the vanilla bean. However, because those isolated compounds may not taste like vanilla, the scientist would have combined those extractions with any other extractions from other plants and animals to create a flavoring substance that tastes like vanilla.
The complaint then compares Breyers's alleged vanilla-bean to Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and Halo Top Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, both of which come in packages that sure make it sound like they contain actual vanilla beans and, sure enough, list vanilla beans as ingredients.