Olive Oil Companies Face Lawsuits Over Labels

The same labels that have prompted the lawsuits are being used as a defense.

olive oil bottleFirst it was beer. Now it’s olive oil.

A California woman, Rohini Kumar, has filed three lawsuits against Salov North America (the parent company to Filippo Berio olive oil, the third largest brand in the US), the supermarket chain Safeway, which has its own brand of olive oil, and Deoleo USA, which produces the Bertolli and Carapelli brands of olive oil, claiming mislabeling and false marketing.

The lawsuits, filed in 2014, focus on the following two claims, according to Fortune: “One is that the olives used to make the oil were not from Italy, but as the lawsuits claim, from ‘different countries’ or ‘imported from various countries.’ A second alleged deception is that the oils were not extra virgin olive oil— a more expensive and healthier olive oil.”

Salov has submitted, as part of its defense, that the label on Filippo Berio bottles says, “Packed in Italy with select extra virgin olive oils from Italy, Spain, Greece & Tunisia.”

Deleo, according to Fortune, has made a similar defense.

Sales of olive oil has gotten a boost from American interest in being more mindful of what they eat and the perception that olive oil, as part of the Mediterranean diet, is better for you.

“The biggest reason there’s litigation over the marketing of olive oil, say experts, is because the United States Department of Agriculture issues only voluntary certification for origins and the types of olive oil from overseas or those produced in the U.S., the Fortune article notes.

Part of it, however, is also because food labeling is a mess. I happened to be in the grocery store a couple of weeks ago and saw a man laboring over the labels of different brands of eggs, natural vs cage-free vs organic. He remarked that there’s a lot of writing on the cartons but he’s still not clear on what the difference is between any of them.

We’ve also heard the American Beverage Association make statements in response to anti-soda campaigns to the effect that consumers should have choice with regards to how much they consume and beverage companies are providing information on their labels to help with the decision making.

The problem is that food labels aren’t designed to actually communicate what’s in the package, but rather, seemingly, to present a bunch of data and then leave the duty of deciphering it all to the consumer. When there are misunderstandings, there are lawsuits.

Food marketers have been content to use slippery language to kind of say what consumers want to hear. And by the looks of it, consumers are getting a little tired of it. The Fortune article ends by saying that only four in 10 U.S. consumers even use olive oil. Imagine what the lawsuits will look like if or when that number goes up.