On Wednesday, a consumer filed a class-action complaint in the Eastern District of New York against Aldi Inc., purporting that the Smoked White Cheddar – Deli Sliced Cheese sold by Aldi in its stores is falsely represented on its front label as smoked when it only contains smoked flavoring.
The complaint explained that smoking comes from exposing a product to smoke, typically by burning wood. The smoke’s drying action and compounds in the wood reportedly preserve foods like meat and cheese, a process which has been used since at least “Roman times.” The filing reported that written records show that a cheese shop noticed after sharing space with a baker that the burning fire gave flavor to the cheese, depending on the type of wood being burnt.
Although smoking is not frequently used now for preservation, the plaintiff claimed that smoked cheeses and other foods are becoming more popular “as consumers embrace foods made without advanced chemistry and synthetic ingredients.”
Smoked flavor is typically added to cheese using smoke that is condensed into liquid form. The plaintiff explained that although this is more convenient, it does not provide the same flavor that comes when an item is actually smoked. The plaintiff also argued that since the liquid smoke flavor contains additives, and “has been associated with detrimental health impacts,” consumers are less likely to pay more for items that have smoked flavor than those which are actually smoked.
Wednesday’s complaint cited flavor regulations, which say that on the front of a product consumers should be told the source of the flavor, whether the flavor is real or comes from an artificial source. “These flavor regulations have established custom and practice so that consumers’ experience primed them to infer from a product’s labeling whether a flavor was entirely from the characterizing ingredients or not,” the filing said.
Although the defendant’s cheese does say in the ingredient list that it contains “natural smoke flavor,” the consumers are allegedly misled by the name of the cheese. The plaintiff purported that this violates federal and state labeling laws. The plaintiff alleged that he and other consumers in the putative class would not have paid the premium price of at least $4.29 for the cheese if it were represented accurately.
In addition to asking the court to certify the class action, the plaintiff is seeking injunctive relief, monetary damages, and other costs. The plaintiff is represented by Sheehan & Associates, a law firm which has represented multiple other plaintiffs alleging misrepresentation on food packaging.