'Victims' of Nutella chocolate spread (and their lawyers) win $3 million class-action settlement

Americans with fat behinds, low IQs, and a hankering for Nutella chocolate spread have won a great moral and legal victory courtesy of the beneficent nanny state and vigilant law firms.
A $3 million class-action lawsuit has been
settled against the Italian maker of Nutella -- all for having "implied" in its advertising that the chocolate spread is healthier than it really is.

One of Nutella's allegedly duplicitous television commercials, below, shows a pretty soccer mom serving her kids Nutella for breakfast. What must TV viewers of a certain ideological percussion have thought of this commercial? Probably something like: Isn't it disgusting how capitalistic pigs like Nutella sell their unhealthy products to America's unsuspecting moms and their kids?

The main issue in the suit, according to the class-action claim's website, is that "Defendant Ferrero made representations through its marketing and advertising of Nutella brand hazelnut spread, improperly suggesting that Nutella is healthier than it actually is. Ferrero denies the allegations and stands by its products and  advertising."

The origins of the suits (one for California, the other for the rest of the country) started with an epiphany that plaintiff Athena Hohenberg of San Diego experienced last year. The mother of a 4-year-old said she was "shocked" to learn Nutella chocolate spread was in fact loaded with calories and sugar, even though its advertising noted that it contained some wholesome products -- hazelnuts, skim milk and such. It's unclear how this epiphany occurred. Could it be that Hohenberg finally bothered to look on the ingredients that Nutella always had on the back of its labels?

As the main suit explains: "In Nutella's marketing and advertising, Defendant  omits that the nutritional value claimed, if any, is not derived from Nutella, but is instead derived from other foods or drinks (e.g., whole grain breads, fruit and milk) which are advertised to be consumed along with Nutella.

"Defendant's claims regarding Nutella are false and misleading because they omit that Nutella contains high levels of saturated fat, the consumption of which has been shown to increase the blood cholesterol levels. High levels of cholesterol have been shown to increase one's risk of hardening of the arteries, heart attack and stroke." (Readers: Take a look at the TV commercial, below, and compare it to what you just read. This commercial was highlighted in the lawsuit.)

Ferrero USA Inc., the group's U.S. division, also agreed to "modify labeling of Nutella and certain marketing statements, create new television advertisements and modify the Nutella website," according to the website for the class-action suit.

On Sunday, a Ferrero spokeswoman told Reuters: "Ferrero USA continues to stand by its product. We believe that it is in the best interest of the company to resolve these matters, and have reached an agreement with the parties involved."

In all, the two suits against Nutella were litigated by three separate law firms. Specifically, the payouts for Nutella's California victims are $550,000 and $2.5 million for the rest the country.

Nutella's consumers are entitled for up to $20 per household -- the equivalent of five jars of Nutella purchased over specific time periods. Apparently, there is no need for proof of purchase. So all you need to do is go to the class-action website, here, and then sign up here. (Just be sure and say how many jars of Nutella you actually purchased.)

Presumably, the usual legal fee for class action suits will apply -- 25 percent or $762,500. It will go to Scott+Scott LLP New York, New York; Carella, Byrne, Cecchi, Olstein, Brody & Agnello, P.C., Roseland, New Jersey; and The Law Offices of Ronald A. Marron and the Weston Firm, San Diego, California.

In Europe, where Nutella is popular, Ferrero also has had run-ins with food regulators in Britain and Brussels. But apparently Ferrero was only upbraided -- not fined or sued -- for its allegedly duplicitous advertising.

All in all, the settlements must be bittersweet for Nutella's victims and their lawyers. After all, $3 million is pocket change for Italy-based Ferrero SpA. As Reuters notes: Ferrero is "one of Italy's richest and most successful family-owned companies, but also one of its more secretive. It had pre-tax earnings of 856 million euros ($1.14 billion) on sales of 7.2 billion euros for the year to end-August 2011."

The confectionery and chocolate maker, whose products include Tic Tac candy, traces its history to 1946 when Pietro Ferrero invented a cream spread made of hazelnuts and cocoa, according to Wikipedia. "Michele Ferrero modified his father's recipe to produce Nutella, which was first sold in 1964 and has become popular around the world."

The moral of this company's interesting corporate history, as told by the left, might be that if Italy had gone communist after WW-2, then Pietro Ferrero's tiny business would have been kept in check, and remained small (or never existed at all). Instead, Ferrero SpA has grown into a multinational monster --  one now foisting unhealthy products like Nutella upon sugar-addicted moms and their kids in Europe and America.

In America, though, Ferrero SpA has finally gotten a small measure of comeuppance -- thanks to outraged moms like Athena Hohenberg and idealistic lawyers who are diligently defending the public's interests.

There must have been plenty of smiles and winks from Washington on this one.


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