Food ads are in the crosshairs as Burger King, others face lawsuits for false advertising

by Gabriel Martinez
Deceptive Advertising

Food advertisements have often depicted their products in a more appealing light, showcasing them as larger, juicier, and crisper than their actual real-life counterparts. Yet, there is a growing sentiment among consumers that these visually enticing ads can sometimes venture into the realm of deception. This sentiment has translated into a surge of lawsuits being filed against various food and beverage companies.

Burger King finds itself in the midst of this legal scrutiny. Recently, a federal judge in Florida declined to dismiss a class action lawsuit against Burger King. The lawsuit alleges that the advertisements for Burger King’s Whopper burger and other sandwiches exaggerate the amount of meat present in the products.

While Burger King stands as a prominent example, it is by no means an isolated case. Perkins Coie, a legal firm that monitors class action suits, reported a significant increase in such lawsuits. In 2022, 214 lawsuits were filed against food and beverage companies, with an additional 101 filed in the first half of the current year. This represents a marked escalation from 2010, when only 45 such cases were reported.

The trend of class action lawsuits commenced a few years ago, with some of the initial cases targeting snack chip manufacturers for alleged false advertising regarding underfilled bags. Although many of these cases were dismissed, the landscape shifted around 2019. Subsequently, a multitude of lawsuits emerged, alleging that consumers were being misled by products labeled as “vanilla-flavored” that lacked authentic vanilla or vanilla beans.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers tend to file these cases in specific courts, primarily in New York, California, and Illinois, where the likelihood of outright dismissal by federal courts is lower. This strategy increases the chances of cases proceeding to the next stage.

Despite Burger King’s lawsuit originating in Miami, where its parent company’s U.S. headquarters are located, the attorney responsible for filing this suit is simultaneously pursuing similar cases against Wendy’s, McDonald’s, and Taco Bell in New York. This attorney, James Kelly, did not provide a response to requests for comments.

In many instances, companies opt to settle these cases preemptively rather than engage in lengthy and costly court battles. For instance, A&W and Keurig Dr Pepper recently agreed to pay $15 million to settle claims that their labeling of “Made with aged vanilla” on soda cans was deceptive, as synthetic flavoring was used instead.

Growing consumer awareness, fueled by social media’s ability to rapidly circulate images of subpar products, has contributed to this trend. Jordan Hudgens, the chief technology officer at Dashtrack, a company specializing in restaurant website development, pointed out that instant sharing of experiences informs potential plaintiffs. Additionally, heightened consciousness regarding health and nutrition prompts consumers to critically assess product claims.

Ben Michael, an attorney at Michael and Associates in Austin, Texas, suggests that inflation could be prompting restaurants to become more susceptible to lawsuits. As some restaurants potentially reduce portion sizes to cut costs, they might fail to update menus or consult their marketing departments. Consequently, legal vulnerabilities increase.

The specific case against Burger King was initiated in March 2022 by plaintiffs from various states. They alleged that advertisements and menu board images depicted burgers that were about 35% larger and contained twice the meat compared to the actual products they purchased. The plaintiffs contended that they would not have made these purchases had they known the accurate sizes.

Burger King refuted these claims, asserting that the beef patties in their ads are consistent with what is served across all their U.S. outlets. In late August, U.S. District Judge Roy Altman dismissed certain claims put forth by the plaintiffs. He ruled that TV and online ads could not be considered a “binding offer” from Burger King due to the absence of price or product information. However, he did concede that images on menu boards might constitute a binding offer, and he upheld claims of negligent misrepresentation.

The eventual resolution of the Burger King case remains uncertain. Historically, lawsuits against fast-food giants have faced challenges. Unlike packaged products like cereal or sodas, sandwiches can greatly vary in appearance, potentially resembling menu board images to differing degrees. The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to provide a definitive stance on these matters, leading to case-by-case determinations.

In 2020, a federal appeals court upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit against Dunkin’, where the plaintiffs alleged deception regarding the use of Angus steak in wraps that actually contained ground meat.

Ultimately, the ongoing cases involving Burger King and other companies could encourage more cautious advertising practices. This shift, however, might come at a cost—more accurate depictions could result in reduced sales. The line between puffery and deceit remains a point of legal contention, pushing companies to tread carefully in their advertising endeavors.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Deceptive Food Advertising

What is the main issue discussed in the text?

The text delves into the rise of lawsuits against food and beverage companies due to deceptive advertising practices, with a focus on the recent case involving Burger King.

How does the text highlight Burger King’s involvement?

Burger King is a central figure in this issue, as it faces a class action lawsuit alleging its ads exaggerate meat quantities in its products, leading to consumer deception.

Are there other companies facing similar lawsuits?

Yes, the text mentions that numerous food and beverage companies have been targeted with class action suits for false advertising. For instance, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, and Taco Bell are mentioned in relation to pending cases.

Why is there a surge in these types of lawsuits?

Several factors contribute, including growing consumer awareness fueled by social media, increased scrutiny of health and nutrition claims, and potential changes in portion sizes due to inflation.

How do companies typically respond to these lawsuits?

Companies often settle such cases preemptively rather than going through lengthy court battles, as seen with A&W and Keurig Dr Pepper agreeing to pay $15 million for misleading soda labeling.

What challenges do these lawsuits pose to fast-food giants?

Unlike packaged goods, the varying appearance of sandwiches makes legal outcomes uncertain. The absence of a definitive stance from the U.S. Supreme Court requires case-by-case determinations.

How might this trend impact advertising practices?

The rise in lawsuits could lead companies to adopt more cautious advertising approaches. However, more accurate depictions might potentially impact sales, striking a balance between accuracy and appeal.

What key legal question is raised in the text?

The text raises the question of when advertising crosses the line between puffery and deceit. This legal gray area challenges companies to navigate their marketing strategies carefully.

More about Deceptive Food Advertising

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CarFanatic September 1, 2023 - 9:39 am

who’d think food ads cud lead 2 lawsuits? burger king’s not alone. ads vs. real stuff, hard 2 tell diff.

CryptoEconGuy September 1, 2023 - 11:04 am

interesting read on legal battles n false ads. burger king’s caught up. more of dis hapnin lately?

EmilyWriter September 1, 2023 - 3:06 pm

food ads b tricky, makin things look tastier dan they r. lawsuits r blowin up now, especly wit burger king.

PoliticVoice September 1, 2023 - 7:20 pm

food ads, lawsuits – imp topic. burger king case opens up issues. ads need 2 b fair, no deceivin!

Alex123 September 1, 2023 - 8:47 pm

wow, dis is sum crazy stuff bout food ads n lawsuits n all dat. burger king gettin sued, huh?


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