A class action lawsuit filed late last month against Mondelēz International — the massive food company whose brands include Nabisco, Ritz, Cadbury, and Tate’s — accuses them of falsely labeling perhaps their most iconic product of all: Oreos, the chocolate-wafer-and-crème-filling confections that are one of America’s favorite cookie brands.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, objects to the company’s claim, which appears on Oreos packages, that the cookies are made with “real cocoa.” According to the plaintiff, Ruben Harper, who initiated the court action “on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated,” Oreos are not in fact made with real cocoa in its unadulterated form but cocoa that has been treated with alkalizing agents, a process known as Dutching.
“Natural cocoa powder’s health benefits include a high amount of flavanols and fiber” which Dutching removes, the suit contends, adding that the process also deprives cocoa of the flavor consumers would expect from it.
“Defendants knew that the labeling of the Products is false and misleading to a reasonable consumer, because the Products are not made with real cocoa,” according to the complaint. Harper seeks “damages and other legal and equitable relief as a result.”
Harper’s is actually the second class action lawsuit brought against Mondelēz for its “real cocoa” claim. The first, filed in April in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York by Charles Harris, objected to the terminology on the same grounds that Harper does. “[N]o reasonable consumer would expect the cocoa in [Oreos] to have been made with and contain alkali,” states his complaint.
Passing Dutched cocoa off as real cocoa seems to have hit a nerve with Harper and Harris — even if it probably doesn’t rank as one of the most outrageous product claims of all time.