Source - Food & Beverage Litigation Update | Issue 760

New York Court Dismisses Vanilla Lawsuit

A New York federal court has dismissed a lawsuit against Oregon Chai Inc. for failure to state a claim in litigation centered on whether using the term “vanilla” on packaging is misleading to consumers. Cosgrove v. Oregon Chai Inc., No. 19-10686 (S.D.N.Y., entered February 22, 2021). “In the past two years, counsel for Plaintiffs [] has filed numerous class action complaints across the country, including several in this District, challenging food manufacturers’ use of the term ‘vanilla’ in their descriptions or advertising,” the decision begins. “In nearly all of these cases, the district court ultimately found that the plaintiffs had failed to state a viable claim for relief. This time, Plaintiffs challenge Defendant Oregon Chai, Inc. [], claiming that Defendant’s use of the term ‘vanilla’ and other statements on the packaging of its chai tea latte powdered mix is misleading to consumers. As set forth in the remainder of this Opinion, this Court agrees with the majority of district courts to have considered the matter, and dismisses the complaint for failure to state a claim.”

Summarizing the plaintiffs’ arguments, the court stated, “Plaintiffs argue that Defendant’s prominent use of the term ‘Vanilla,’ along with the identifying description of ‘Vanilla and honey combine with premium black tea and chai spices,’ foster the misimpression that the vanilla flavor is present in an amount greater than the honey and the chai spices, when in fact there is more honey and cinnamon in the products []. Plaintiffs reason that the prominent use of the term ‘Vanilla’ also fosters the misimpression that the vanilla flavor is derived from vanilla beans, rather than artificial vanillin. []. Finally, Plaintiffs argue that the products’ reference to ‘Made with Natural Ingredients’ is misleading on several levels: it reinforces the impression that the vanilla flavor is derived from vanilla beans and not artificial vanillin, and it suggests (falsely, according to Plaintiffs) that the products do not contain any synthetic or artificial ingredients.”

The court reviewed several cases in other district courts, finding that the courts were generally unpersuaded by arguments analogous to the plaintiffs’. Noting the placement of “vanilla” under “Oregon Tea Latte” on the product’s packaging, the court noted that “the term appears to describe a flavor more than an ingredient — more particularly, to distinguish the vanilla flavor from Defendant’s other chai tea latte flavors, including ‘The Original,’ ‘Salted Caramel,’ and ‘Spiced.’” The court also observed that “there is no reference to ‘vanilla bean’ or ‘vanilla extract’ anywhere on the packaging; nor is there any reference to the product being ‘made with’ or ‘made from’ any part of the vanilla plant (the reference instead being ‘Made with Natural Ingredients’).” Accordingly, the court dismissed the complaint and denied the plaintiffs’ request for leave to amend because they had already amended the complaint twice and not specified how they could cure any further deficiencies.

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