NEW YORK — Barilla S.p.A., the world’s largest pasta maker, is facing a lawsuit alleging a deceptive packaging practice known as “slack-fill.”
According to the lawsuit filed July 28 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Barilla has been misleading consumers by underfilling its boxes of pasta by as much as 25%.
Barilla packages its wide range of pastas — labeled “Gluten-Free,” “Whole Grain,” “ProteinPlus” and “White Fiber” — in same-sized boxes, and boxes that appear to be same-size, but fills them with less pasta.
For example, the company’s enriched macaroni product version of elbow pasta is sold 1-lb per box, but its ProteinPlus elbows are sold 14.5-oz per box and Whole Grain elbows are sold 13.25-oz per box.
“Deceptively, however, Barilla continues to sell all three types of elbow pasta in boxes that appear to be the same size when displayed on the shelf of a supermarket,” the lawsuit states. “The box used for the standard elbows and the Whole Grain elbows are identical, while the ProteinPlus elbows are sold in a box that appears to be the same size but is actually thicker. As result, rather than reduce the size of the box for the Whole Grain or ProteinPlus pastas, Barilla substantially underfills the boxes in which these pastas are sold. Barilla also uses this practice when selling other shapes of pasta, such as spaghetti, penne, and shells, among others.”
The lawsuit does note that the new reduced weight of the pasta is noted on the box, but claims the information is in small print at the bottom of the box.
“Barilla relies on consumers’ familiarity with the box size and appearance, known due to decades of marketing, to mislead consumers into thinking they are purchasing the same quantity of pasta when, in reality, the company is filling the boxes with materially less pasta,” the lawsuit states. “By misleading consumers in this manner, Barilla is able to capitalize on the market for gluten-free, whole wheat, protein plus and white fiber, while preserving and/or increasing its margins and conveying a favorable appearance relative to its own products and those of their competitors.”Barilla said it doesn’t comment on pending or rumored lawsuits, but that its products are high quality that meet or exceed all state and federal regulations.