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Soup Labelling Case Headed to Trial in Illinois

A plate of assorted foods.

Food backgrounds: top view of a rustic wooden table filled with different types of food. At the center of the frame is a cutting board with beef steak and a salmon fillet and all around it is a large variety of food like fruits, vegetables, cheese, bread, eggs, legumes, olive oil and nuts. DSRL studio photo taken with Canon EOS 5D Mk II and Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Telephoto Zoom Lens

On October 5, in the Southern District of Illinois, the Honorable Chief Judge Rosenstengel allowed a case of deceptive advertising via labeling on a soup can under Illinois state law to proceed to trial because the soups at issue contained no meat. 

Haunah Vanlaningham and Danielle Schwartz brought a legal action against Campbell Soup claiming that the defendant’s “Home Style Soup” and “Slow Kettle Soup” contained numerous chemicals despite the can’s labelling stating “no preservatives added” and “made with patience, not preservatives.” The plaintiffs argue that a number of ingredients violated this assertion including “citric acid, ascorbic acid, succinic acid, monosodium glutamate, sodium phosphate, disodium guanylate, disodium inosinate, and xanthan gum.” As such, the plaintiffs sought damages for themselves and all other Illinois consumers who purchased the soups during the year of 2018 given that the plaintiffs alleged that they “purchased products from Campbell in reliance on the (advertising), paying more than they would have for other similar products without (claims of containing no preservatives).”

Campbell filed a motion to dismiss the claim, proffering that the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) and Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA), which the opinion explained gives the USDA sole power to “impose standards for labelling of meat products (including soups)” and to determine whether labels of meat products are “false or misleading,” preempts all state laws attempting to regulate soups made by the defendant. Judge Rosenstengel dismissed the argument holding that while “courts in the past have struck down suits that attempt to bring state-law causes of action imposing labelling requirements on poultry and meat products,” the determination was made based on a single soup can, not the entire product line. To put it differently, the court continued, the fact that Campbell makes soups that contain meat in addition to soups that do not (such as the soups in the current legal matter), does not alter the rule that state laws may continue to regulate deceptive advertising for vegetarian soups without concern of preemption. 

The district court concluded by denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss and ruling that “Congress’s purpose in passing the FMIA and PPIA was not to create uniformity in all food labeling, however, but rather across meat and poultry products, and there is no indication that it was Congress’s intent to push states out of the business of regulating food labelling in general. On the contrary, states have long had an interest in the protection of their own citizens from harmful commercial practices, and the regulation of fraudulent and abusive commercial speech has long been a subject of state regulation, not an issue that is inherently federal. Accordingly, the Court is inclined to construe the scope of preemption here narrowly.”

The plaintiffs are represented by Nelson & Nelson, Armstrong Law Firm, and Steckler Gresham Cochran. Campbell is represented by Perkins Coie.

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