The People v Panera’s Charged Lemonade and 13 Other Food-Related Lawsuits
By now, you’re likely familiar with McDonald’s infamous hot coffee lawsuit or Subway’s neverending defense of its “tuna.” But these high-profile disputes are hardly the only legal battles in food industry history. From allegations of misleading ingredients to false advertising claims that suggest size really does matter, here are 14 food-related lawsuits that will make you wonder about your legal standing before buying that half-full bag of chips from the grocery store…
The Case of Velveeta Shells Ready Time
Last year, a Florida woman launched a class-action lawsuit against Kraft Heinz, alleging that the box’s “ready in 3½ minutes” claim was false and misleading. While most food packaging says that cooking times may vary based on microwave wattage, this wasn’t about the cooking time at all. The cheesed-off woman was expecting the process to take 210 seconds total, and explained that the box’s estimation didn’t account for steps like mixing water and the cheese sauce — a step that takes no more than 10 seconds at most.
Cracker Barrel’s Country Chemicals
After eight years of legal battles and 40 minutes of jury deliberation, a Tennessee court ordered Cracker Barrel to pony up nearly $10 million in damages to a customer. Back in 2014, the patron was served a glass of liquid he thought was ice water, only to find out that it was actually the chemical being used to clean the kitchen. Instead of a nice refreshing sip, he felt a burning sensation in his throat and still has stomach issues to this day.
Fruitless Loops and Missing Berries
From 2007 to 2010, seven different near-identical lawsuits were filed against Kellogg and PepsiCo, thanks to a couple of their colorful breakfast offerings. Parents waged war against Froot Loops and Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries respectively, which they believed to contain a significant amount of real fruit, and felt deceived to discover otherwise. Luckily for Toucan Sam and the Cap’n, the lawsuits were dismissed.
Panera Bread’s Super-Charged Lemonade
When Panera Bread introduced their Charged Lemonades late last year, the new drink went viral. Though Panera claimed their newest beverage provided a green alternative to mainstream energy drinks, one TikToker jokingly warned that the caffeinated lemonade “will lead to (her) cardiac arrest,” after unknowingly consuming 1,000 milligrams of caffeine. Unfortunately for another customer, that joke became a reality. The popular café is currently being sued by the parents of a Pennsylvania college student who suffered cardiac arrest and died after drinking the viral lemonade in September 2022. The lawsuit alleges that the lemonade contains more caffeine than a Red Bull and Monster Energy combined with no consumer warning, which would have likely steered the college student, who battled a lifelong heart condition, away from drinking it.
Italy’s #1 Pasta, Made in Iowa
A grocery store pasta staple found itself at odds with two California residents in late 2022. A lawsuit brought against Barilla alleged that their claim to be “Italy’s #1 Brand of Pasta” could deceive customers into believing that their pasta was made in Italy — despite being produced in Iowa and New York with locally-sourced ingredients. The Illinois company criticized the class-action lawsuit, noting that their boxes also say “Made in the U.S.A.”
Popeyes Chicken Sandwich Shortage
Everyone remembers where they were when important events happened: 9/11, Michael Jackson’s death and Popeyes introducing its chicken sandwich. The release caused such a frenzy that the Louisiana fast-food chain’s supply couldn’t keep up with the demand. When the sandwich sold out, one Tennessee man sued the restaurant for “false advertising” and “deceptive business practices by entities to the public.” The man, who represented himself in the case, sought $5,000 in damages. He had hoped to cover the $1,500 in rim and tire deterioration due to driving from location to location, the $25 a Craigslist con man posing as a Popeyes employee with secret sandwiches swindled from him and the psychological humiliation of his friends laughing at him, which he put at $3,475.
A Vancouver man walked away with $1,500 after Canada Dry Mott’s Inc. settled a class-action lawsuit for $200,000. Victor Cardoso spearheaded the lawsuit after he spent years buying the brand’s namesake ginger ale with the belief that it had “medicinal benefits.” The 2019 lawsuit claimed that the drink’s slogan “Made from Real Ginger” and visual marketing linking the beverage to the ingredient were categorically misleading.
A 2022 class-action lawsuit against Mars alleged that the company’s Skittles contain a toxin with the ability to change DNA. The toxin in question is titanium dioxide, which is an additive pigment that gives the candies their signature rainbow richness. The North California woman suing the company used France banning the substance in 2019 as the basis of her claim.
Subway’s Missing Inch
In 2012, a customer posted a picture of their Subway footlong measuring less than 12 inches, which led to a class-action lawsuit full of outraged customers with similar experiences. The chain pulled a Costanza and claimed “shrinkage” due to the toasting process, noting that a number of variables can cause bread to compress. Still, the chain settled and vowed to make measuring tools readily available in stores to ensure customers that they’re getting every inch they pay for.
A California woman filed suit against Jelly Belly Candy Co. when she discovered that her jelly beans were actually full of sugar. The company’s “Sport Beans,” which boasted a performance-enhancing offering full of vitamins, electrolytes and carbohydrates mostly only contained evaporated cane juice, aka a form of sugar. The woman claims she wouldn’t have spent so much money on the product had she not been misled into believing it was a healthy energy source.
Nutella’s Nutty Health Claims
The phrase “part of a balanced breakfast” has been slapped on oatmeal boxes and juice cartons of all sorts. For a while, it was also on packages of Nutella. But that ceased to be the case when a judge ruled in favor of a mother who felt duped into believing the chocolate-hazelnut spread was good for her children, and Ferraro USA had to shell out $3.05 million in class-action settlement money.
Tito’s Machine-Made Vodka
The ever-popular Tito’s Vodka was hit with a lawsuit alleging that its handmade spirit is not actually made by hand. A San Diego woman filed the suit, claiming that the vodka is actually made via a “highly mechanized process” that she feels results in an inferior product not properly marketed to consumers. Tito’s fought back against the claims, noting that its use of the word “handmade” is federally approved.
Wingless Red Bull
Red Bull was sued over misleading claims that the drink “gives you wings,” as the slogan goes. The class-action lawsuit wasn’t literal, but it did attack the energy drink for purporting to be a higher-powered coffee alternative, despite containing a similar amount of caffeine to an average cup of coffee. The $13 million settlements earned claimees a whopping $10 cash out.
Starbucks’ Icy Iced Coffee
A Chicago woman sued Starbucks to the tune of $5 million for putting too much ice in its iced coffee. To be clear, this isn’t a reverse McDonald’s hot coffee situation where she claimed the iced coffee gave her frostbite. Rather, she argued that the amount of ice dilutes the volume of the beverage, thus deceiving her into paying more for less. The case was dismissed, as it costs zero dollars to ask your barista for less ice should you feel so inclined.