Ritz Faces Lawsuit Over 'Real Cheese' Claims

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Ritz is sued for allegedly misleading 'real cheese' claims, questioning food labeling accuracy.

Eating healthy has become more than a trend—it's a lifestyle for many. So, when a brand like Ritz claims its crackers are "made with real cheese," you'd expect it to deliver on that promise, right? Not so fast, according to a recent lawsuit filed in New York..

Cheesy promises versus reality

The class action, spearheaded by Joseph Fischetti, takes Mondelez Global LLC to task over its Ritz Bits Cracker Sandwiches. Despite the appetizing promise of real cheese filling, Fischetti alleges the product is mostly made of whey and sugar, not the dairy delight consumers are led to expect.

Fischetti, representing the average consumer, contends that when a product's front label boasts of being “made with” specific ingredients like real cheese, there's a natural expectation that these ingredients will be the main component. However, the lawsuit alleges that the so-called real cheese filling in Ritz crackers is anything but, with whey and sugar taking precedence over cheese in the ingredients list.

A statement from a food industry executive echoes the sentiment of the lawsuit, highlighting that "Consumers are reading product labels more closely, and we are seeing the effects of a simple food movement when it comes to ingredients, especially in snacks. One of these ingredients is cheese."

The whey factor

Central to the case is the ingredient whey, a byproduct of cheese production, which is prominently featured in Ritz Bits Cracker Sandwiches. The lawsuit provides a detailed critique of whey, noting that it lacks the milkfat, proteins, vitamins, and minerals found in real cheese, as well as its savory taste.

"Whey is not a required ingredient in any 'real cheese,' as consumers understand this term," the complaint states.

A recent similar consumer class action lawsuit against Kraft alleges the sauce in its Velveeta Shells & Cheese is deceptively labeled as containing “real cheese” when the product allegedly contains predominantly whey and canola oil.

The legal argument on misbranding

According to the lawsuit, Mondelez's product labeling is not just misleading but constitutes misbranding. This is because the term "real cheese" on the label, accompanied by mouth-watering imagery, sets an expectation that cheese is the primary ingredient in the filling, an expectation that the actual product reportedly fails to meet.

Invoking the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) and New York's Agriculture and Markets Law (AGM), the lawsuit argues these rules were set precisely to prevent such questionable marketing. The essence here is straightforward: people like Fischetti pay more for what they believe are superior products, based on the claims made on the packaging.

“Defendant’s false and deceptive representations and omissions are material in that they are likely to influence consumer purchasing decisions. This is because consumers prefer foods with ingredients they are familiar with, like real cheese, for reasons including nutrition, taste and quality.”

The Ritz class action seeks to represent all New York consumers who purchased Ritz Bits Cracker Sandwiches, promoted as having a “Filling Made With Real Cheese,” in New York during the statutes of limitations for each cause of action alleged.

The plaintiff is represented by Spencer Sheehan of Sheehan & Associates P.C.

The Ritz cheese deceptive labeling class action lawsuit is Fischetti v. Mondelez Global LLC, Case No. 2:24-cv-01135, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Central Islip.

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