Here we go again. Lawsuits over allegedly deceptive food labels have become commonplace—a tried-and-true tactic for some plaintiffs’ attorneys to earn an easy buck. By claiming that the labels were intentionally misleading in some way, these lawyers and the purportedly confused clients they represent, seek to leverage the specter of a class action to force quick settlements. Unfortunately, this tactic often works. In fact, it has worked so well that entire subsets of labeling lawsuits have sprung up, among them “healthy food” labels, “all natural” labels, and slack-fill cases. We can now add a new category to the list: plaintiffs alleging they were deceived because their beer was not brewed where they thought it was.
Plaintiffs Sara Cilloni and Simone Zimmer filed a putative class action, Cilloni v. Craft Brew Alliance, Inc., in the Food Court (also known as the US District Court for the Northern District of California) against Craft Brew Alliance, the owners of Kona Brewing Company (Kona). Kona was founded in 1995 on Hawaii’s Big Island. Taking pride in the company’s origins, Kona stylizes each of its beers in an overtly Hawaiian theme, inviting customers to enjoy the “Liquid Aloha” and “Catch A Wave.” With names like Big Wave Golden Ale, Longboard Island Lager, and Wailua Wheat, Kona’s products celebrate their history and ties to Hawaiian culture.
According to plaintiffs, however, this branding is merely an elaborate plan to “exploit strong consumer sentiment for Hawaiian-made products.” Plaintiffs allege that the labeling on Kona’s products is false and misleading because, even though Kona was founded in Hawaii and produces beer in Hawaii for that state’s market, none of the beer Kona sells in the continental United States is produced in Hawaii. Thus, Kona “intentionally misleads” its consumers into purchasing Hawaiian beer, when in fact the beer is produced in several states throughout the continental US. According to plaintiffs, consumers “would not have purchased the beer, or would have paid significantly less for the beer, had they known the true origins of the Kona … beer they purchased.” Plaintiffs join an increasing list of litigants claiming that beer labels are false or misleading because a beer with foreign origins is actually produced in the US. The owners of Fosters, Becks, Guinness, and Kirin Ichiban have all faced mislabeling claims.