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Whole Foods Rice Pilaf Slack Fill Lawsuit Dismissed

  • On August 16, a federal judge for the Northern District of Illinois granted Whole Foods Market’s (WFM) motion to dismiss a proposed class action lawsuit that alleged WFM violated consumer protection statutes by selling its private label “Long Grain & Wild Rice – Rice Pilaf” in boxes that were larger than necessary for the amount of product they contained (subscription to Law360 required). In the order to dismiss, U.S. District Judge Elaine E. Bucklo held that the Rice Pilaf label conspicuously stated the accurate serving sizes and number of servings per box, and thus was not deceptive.
  • In the complaint, plaintiff, Leroy Jacobs, did not dispute that the packaging disclosed accurate information about the weight and approximate yield, but rather argued that the consumer deception stemmed from the fact that he “could not and did not reasonably understand or expect any of the net weight or serving disclosures to translate to an amount of rice meaningfully different from his expectation of an amount which would fill up the box.” He argued that judging from the size of the box, reasonable shoppers would expect them to be substantially filled with rice, but more than 50% of the box was empty space without any functional, protective purposes.
  • Judge Bucklo disagreed and stated that “a reasonable consumer expects the size of the box to bear only a loose relationship to the amount of cooked product its contents will yield. Accordingly, a shopper uncertain about how many boxes of rice pilaf to buy for the family dinner would know not to rely on the size of the box and would look for additional information of precisely the kind plaintiff admits defendant’s rice pilaf box contains: the number of servings each box will produce based on a specified serving size.” Judge Bucklo found that because the serving information dispelled any tendency to mislead that the box size alone might create, there was no deception as a matter of law.

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