Van's International Foods, retailers sued for fraud

by FoodBusinessNews.net Staff
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LOS ANGELES, CALIF. — A class action lawsuit was filed against Van’s International Foods, a subsidiary of Healthy Food Holdings, Inc., on March 4 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. In the suit, the plaintiffs allege nutrition information printed on packages of Van’s brand waffles was incorrect and that the company continued to promote the products’ positive nutritional attributes even though executives knew the information to be false.

Retailers Whole Foods Market, Inc., Trader Joe’s Co. and Costco Wholesale Corp. also have been named in the lawsuit.

"The nutritional information printed on Van’s waffles packages contained dramatic inaccuracies: the packaging understated negative nutritional attributes such as calories, fat, sodium and carbohydrates, and overstated positive attributes such as protein, fiber, calcium, and iron, often by more than 20%, and in some instances as much as 100%," said the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also alleges that senior executives at Van’s and H.F.H. were informed of the labeling inaccuracies as early as Jan. 2007, but made the decision to continue selling the products with the inaccurate nutrition information.

A spokesperson reached by Food Business News on Monday declined to comment on the lawsuit.

In 2006, H.F.H. acquired Van’s. Following the acquisition by Van’s, its quality assurance director left the company. As a result, Lisa Goldstein, Van’s director of research and development, who remained with the company, had to reverse engineer the recipes for the existing Van’s product lines, according to the lawsuit.

Through her efforts, Ms. Goldstein determined that the nutritional information provided on the packaging of Van’s brand products, including the label, contained inaccuracies. She reported the inaccuracies to her superiors at Van’s and H.F.H. on several occasions, beginning in January 2007.

The lawsuit cites an e-mail from Ms. Goldstein to Kevin O’Rell, senior vice-president of research and development and operations at the time, that lab analysis showed the packaging contained inaccurate nutritional information. She noted, "our customers read labels thoroughly, and we need to make sure our products deliver the nutritional claims we make."

In March 2007, Ms. Goldstein followed up with Mr. O’Rell and iterated that some Van’s product packaging labels contained incorrect information.

The lawsuit cites several examples of labeling inaccuracies, including for the Van’s brand Gourmet Blueberry Waffles, which were labeled as containing 3.5 grams of fat, but contained 10 grams of fat, according to Ms. Goldstein’s analysis. In a similar instance, in the Van’s Belgian Original 30-Count product the fat content was listed as 3.5 grams, but was actually 11 grams.

Despite being notified about the inaccurate nutrition information, Van’s International Foods and Health Foods Holdings took no action, the lawsuit alleges and they continued to place orders for packaging with the new information.

Whole Foods Markets was named in the lawsuit, because the company claims they evaluate the nutritional content of every product they sell, according to the lawsuit. Trader Joe’s Co. and Costco Wholesale Corp. also were named, because they marketed Van’s waffles to the general public in packaging that misrepresented the product’s nutritional information.

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