This class action brings suit against Prairie Farms Dairy, Inc. for certain of its vanilla ice cream products. The complaint says the products “purport to contain flavor only from their natural characterizing flavor vanilla[,] under their Prairie Farms Small Batch brand…”
The complaint shows an image of the product’s packaging, including the words “Premium Vanilla Bean Ice Cream” and “Natural Ingredients” and images of three vanilla beans and a scoop of ice cream in a cone with what are presumably specks of vanilla bean seeds.
The back label claims that the product has “Natural Colors and Flavors.” The last two items on the ingredient panel are “Natural Flavor, Vanilla Bean.”
The complaint asserts, “In ice cream, ‘natural flavor’ refers to flavor derived only from the characterizing flavor, while ‘artificial flavor’ refers to flavors derived from sources other than the characterizing flavor.”
The complaint contains a great deal of information about vanilla and vanilla flavoring. However, the heart of the complaint’s argument lies in a letter from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), called the Quinn letter, which is attached to the original complaint as Exhibit A. This letter speaks of “three distinct types of ice cream, based on the use of natural and various combinations of natural and … artificial flavors that characterize this food.”
Category I is ice cream that is flavored only with vanilla beans. This may be labeled “Vanilla Ice Cream.” Category II is flavored with both vanilla beans and a non-vanilla-bean source of flavor, but the natural vanilla-bean source predominates. This may be labeled “Vanilla Flavored Ice Cream.” Category III is similar, being flavored from both vanilla bean and non-vanilla bean sources, but the artificial flavor predominates. In this case, the ice cream should be labeled “Artificially Flavored Ice Cream.”
The Prairie Farms Dairy “Vanilla” ice cream contains both “natural flavor,” presumably other than vanilla, and “vanilla bean.” This would at best be Category II if not Category III, but the ice cream is labeled as a Category I ice cream, as simply “Vanilla Ice Cream.”
In fact, the complaint suggests that the final ingredient, vanilla beans, may refer not to the flavoring but to spent vanilla beans—from which all flavor has been extracted—which are sometimes used to provide the specks in ice cream that suggest the use of real vanilla.
All this implies to consumers that the flavoring comes exclusively from vanilla beans, the complaint says. It matters because vanilla is a popular and expensive flavor, and consumers select naturally-flavored products over artificially-flavored ones and are willing to pay more for them.
The class for this action is all consumers in New York and the other forty-nine states, presumably those who bought the product with the actionable representations during the statute of limitations period.