Danone North America uses synthetic ingredients in its vanilla yogurts, according to a class-action lawsuit, and misleads consumers about the nature of the products.
Theresa Andriulli of West Haven, Connecticut, sued Danone June 2 in federal court in White Plains, seeking at least $5 million on behalf of customers who bought Danone’s whole milk, lowfat and Oikos Triple Zero vanilla yogurts.
“The products are misleading,” the complaint states, “because despite being labeled as “vanilla,” they have less vanilla flavor derived from vanilla beans than their name suggests.”
Michael Neuwirth, a spokesman for the French corporation’s White Plains-based operations, said the company declines to comment on pending litigation.
Vanilla is the third most popular flavoring, the complaint states, prized by consumers for its flavor and aroma, but it is expensive.
“There is a strong incentive for bad actors to pass off inferior, cheaper and non-vanilla substitutes in the place of real vanilla,” the complaint states.
Vanilla mimics include vanillin, derived from tree bark and wood pulp; coumarin, a toxic substance that has medical applications; and Tonka beans that are banned in the United States.
The complaint claims that Danone used misleading labeling to deceive customers into paying a premium price of $2.99 per 5.3 ounce.
The complaint does not identify Danone’s vanilla substitute or offer specific evidence of Danone’s use of substitutes.
The clue that something is amiss, according to the complaint, can be detected in the labels and ingredient lists.
All three product lines are labeled “vanilla with other natural flavors.” Ingredients include “natural flavors” or “natural vanilla flavor.”
The phrase “with other natural flavors” means that something is being used to simulate, resemble or reinforce the vanilla flavor. The best known imitator is vanillin, an artificial flavor. Thus, according to the complaint, vanilla with other natural flavors is vanilla “adulterated by a new name.”
The label should say, according to the complaint, “contains vanillin, an artificial flavor.”
If Andriulli had assurances that the yogurts were represented correctly, the complaint states, she “would consider purchasing the products again.”
The complaint accuses Danone of violating state unfair trade practices laws, negligent misrepresentation, breach of warranty, fraud and unjust enrichment.
Andriulli is represented by attorney Spencer Sheehan of Great Neck, Long Island.