New in False Ad Suits: Mustard Origination, Fake Sales and ‘Natural’ Lotion

Advertising Law

New false advertising class actions filed by consumers allege that Maille mustard products are not made in France, that Old Navy touted fake sales and that St. Ives’ lotion is not “all natural” as described.

In his California federal court complaint, Dennis Culver accused Unilever of duping consumers into believing that its “Maille” mustard line comes from France, when in reality the mustards are made in Canada.

Each of the products contains label references to France, such as an emblem of Paris, and makes use of the French language in the phrases “Paris,” “Depuis 1747” and “Que Maille.”

In support of his claims, Culver provided the court with a consumer survey conducted online among a demographically representative sample of more than 400 consumers who purchased mustard products prior to the survey. Respondents were shown the principal display panel of the Maille Dijon Originale mustard product and asked, “Based on the label of the product, where do you believe the product is made?”

Consumers were given a drop-down list of 21 countries, including Canada, France and the United States (as well as the option to select “None of the above” or “I am not sure.”) Answering the question, 63 percent of the respondents chose France as the location where they believed the mustard was made.

In New Jersey federal court, a pair of plaintiffs asserted that Old Navy uses fake “regular” price lists that trick consumers into thinking they are getting a good deal, although the lists have no connection to the value or comparable price of the product.

“For years, Old Navy has perpetrated a massive false discount advertising scheme across nearly all of its Old Navy-branded products, across all of its sales channels,” according to the complaint. “Old Navy advertises perpetual or near perpetual discounts (typically a purported savings of 30 percent to 60 percent off) from Old Navy’s self-created list prices for the products.”

Although the defendant represents its list prices as being the “regular” and normal prices of the items, they are false, the plaintiffs said, because Old Navy rarely if ever offers the products at the advertised list price.

For example, plaintiff Anatasha Barba—a regular Old Navy shopper for many years—purchased a pair of Mid-Rise Super Skinny Jeans for $15, believing that she was getting the product at half off the $29.99 list price.

“In reality, and unbeknownst to Ms. Barba, Old Navy had offered these jeans at the purported regular price of $29.99 for only 12 out of the past 486 days prior to her purchase,” or 2.47 percent of the time, the complaint alleged. Since then, the jeans have never been offered at the purported regular price.

Finally, Robert Bryce Stewart III said Unilever’s St. Ives brand, which includes 19 skin and body care products that he purchased regularly between 2014 and 2017, are not “all natural” as advertised.

In fact, the products contain “numerous” synthetic ingredients such as phenoxyethanol, dimethicone and sodium laurel sulfate, according to his New York federal court complaint, despite the “prominent” use of phrases such as “100% Natural Moisturizers,” “100% Natural Exfoliant,” “100% Natural Extracts,” “Made with 100% Natural Moisturizers,” “Made with 100% Natural Exfoliant” and “Made with 100% Natural Extracts.”

The defendant reinforced the “natural” phrasing with images of mountains and leaves as well as references to natural ingredients such as oatmeal and orchids, the plaintiff added.

“Plaintiff and members of the classes … paid a premium for defendants’ products over comparable products that did not purport to be natural products,” Stewart alleged. “Contrary to representations on the products’ labeling, instead of receiving natural products, consumers receive products with unnatural and/or synthetic ingredients.”

Each of the actions seeks class action status and requests injunctive relief as well as monetary damages.

To read the complaint in Culver v. Unilever United States, Inc., click here

To read the complaint in Barba v. Old Navy, LLC, click here

To read the complaint in Stewart v. Unilever United States, Inc., click here

Why it matters: The new consumer class actions alleging false advertising demonstrate that such cases are filed nationwide and can challenge claims for any type of product, from mustard to body lotion to the sale price of jeans.