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March 22, 2013

Friday 5: Not-so-sweet lawsuits about treats

by WSBA
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Check out five cases where candies bit back.

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Judging by all the colorful baskets and plastic grass lining store shelves everywhere, it’s about time for a certain bunny to make his annual delivery of dyed eggs, chocolate bunnies, and other treats. But candy isn’t always sweet, as these lawsuits prove. Here are 5 cases where candies bit back.

1. Bad Mr. Goodbar: An Alabama woman is suing Walmart and the Hershey company, alleging that she became seriously ill after eating a Mr. Goodbar that was nine months past its expiration date and moldy. The woman, a Walmart employee, purchased the candy at her store and ate it on her break, not realizing it was contaminated with mold. According to the lawsuit, she suffered injuries to her stomach and intestinal tract; had doctor, hospital, and drug expenses; lost time and wages from missed work; and suffered pain and mental anguish. The suit was filed just last month, so stay tuned for developments.

2. When “low carb” doesn’t mean low carb: When chocolatier Russell Stover introduced a line of “low-carb” candies in 2003, diet-conscious customers quickly complained that the nutrition label numbers didn’t add up. At the time, the FDA didn’t have an official definition for “low carb,” so companies skirted the issue by using phrases such as “carb smart” or “carb conscious.” Another strategy is using “net carbs,” which refers to carbohydrates derived, not from sugar, but from sugar alcohols (which don’t count in low-carb diets such as the Atkins diet). Russell Stover settled, changed their label to say “net carb” rather than “low-carb,” and consumers in the class-action lawsuit either got a 30-cent refund or a 40-cent coupon. A sweet deal?

3. Nutella – not just for breakfast anymore: If you were under the impression that chocolate is a totally valid breakfast option, you’re not alone. A women sued Ferrero USA, which makes the creamy, chocolatey hazelnut spread, claiming that Nutella falsely represented itself as “an example of a tasty yet balanced breakfast” (when combined with more nutritious breakfast items like wheat bread, milk, and juice). She “was surprised and upset to learn that Nutella was in fact not a ‘healthy, nutritious’ food but instead a product with the nutritional properties of a candy bar,” according to the complaint. Nutella settled for $3 million, paying out $4 per jar for purchases made between 2008–12. The company also vowed to modify some of its marketing statements and to better display its nutritional labels.

4. Attack of the “dangerously chewy” Starburst: A Michigan woman sued Starburst’s parent company, Mars Inc., for more than $25,000 for “permanent personal injuries” she claimed to have sustained after biting into one of their fruit-chew candies in 2005. Derision swiftly rained down on the frivolous suit from all sides, but one thing is for sure: “dangerously chewy” is a pretty darn good slogan.

5. There’s only one Easter bunny: Since obtaining a European trademark in 2001 for its signature gold-foil-wrapped chocolate bunny, Lindt has hunted down knockoffs in Britain, Austria, Germany, and Poland. In a five-year lawsuit, Lindt sued Austrian candymaker Franz Hauswirth, which produced a strikingly similar gold-foil-wrapped chocolate bunny sporting different neckwear (a red-and-white ribbon vs. Lindt’s gold bell). At the heart of the matter was whether a 3-D shape, and the process used to manufacture it, could be trademarked. Ultimately, Lindt prevailed, and Hauswirth was ordered to stop making their look-alike bunnies. Ironically, in 2012, Lindt lost a lawsuit against German gummy-bear giant Haribo for nearly the same reason: Lindt’s gold-foil-wrapped chocolate bear (which has a red ribbon wrapped around its neck) was deemed too similar to Haribo’s iconic red-ribbon-wearing cartoon teddy bear.

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