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Friendly’s Vanilla Ice Cream “Natural Flavors” Class Action

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Container of Friendly's Vanilla Ice Cream

Is your favorite vanilla ice cream really flavored with vanilla? This is one of a number of class actions alleging that ice cream companies are fudging on vanilla—not flavoring with real vanilla, but manipulating wording on packaging to suggest that they are. At issue in this case are vanilla ice creams used in a variety of products from Friendly’s Manufacturing and Retail, LLC. 

Friendly’s sells ice cream in a number of forms: cakes, cartons, cups, rolls, bars, sandwiches, and Big Friendly’s products. The complaint says that at least fifty-seven of its products contain vanilla ice cream or vanilla light ice cream, alone or in combination with something else. For example, it sells cherry vanilla, cookies ’n cream, and fruit swirls orange crème swirls ice cream and original caramel and strawberry cake krunch sundae cups.

The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) says that vanilla is the first choice for 28% of consumers. This, the IDFA says, is “not only because it is creamy and delicious, but also because of its ability to enhance so many other desserts and treats.”

Vanilla is in high demand. Unfortunately, it is also the second most expensive flavoring in the world (after saffron). This creates incentive for companies to pass off inferior, cheaper ingredients as vanilla. These efforts may include using synthetic ethyl vanillin made from wood pulp, tree bark, or coal tar; adding propenyl guaethol, an unrelated flavor that is similar to vanilla; extending with other flavoring substances; and so on. 

Standards were developed to keep consumers from being fooled by fraud and to require accurate labeling. However, the complaint alleges that Friendly’s is getting around them.

The complaint reproduces the ingredient label for Friendly’s vanilla ice cream. Although it lists “natural flavor,” it does not list vanilla flavor or vanilla extract. According to the complaint, “Defendant’s listing of ‘natural flavor’ as opposed to vanilla flavor or vanilla extract is a tacit acknowledgement that ‘natural flavor’ is not a synonym for the required vanilla ingredients.”

The complaint reproduces a Haagen-Dazs ingredient label which does list vanilla extract.

The complaint says, “The vanilla standards reference three vanilla-vanillin combinations—Vanilla-vanillin extract, Vanilla-vanillin flavoring and Vanilla-vanillin powder.” These would qualify as being natural ingredients. However, “only 1-2% of vanillin in commercial use is vanillin obtained from the vanilla plant.” This means that most vanillin is synthetic and not derived from vanilla beans and therefore can’t be called a natural flavor.

The complaint declares that “if a vanilla flavor is derived from any source other than vanilla, it is accurately designated as an artificial flavor.” 

The flavor in the ice cream, the complaint alleges, is properly termed vanilla flavor or vanilla extract with other natural flavors (Vanilla WONF). 

The class for this action is all consumers in all fifty states who bought any of the Friendly’s products with actionable representations during the statutes of limitations. State subclasses may also be defined.

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