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Ben & Jerry’s sued over ‘happy cow’ claims; suit calls socially-conscious marketing a fraud

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Popular ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s – known for their socialist political leanings and wacky flavors – is in hot water after allegedly misleading consumers with their “happy cow” representation.

James Ehlers, an environmental advocate and former gubernatorial candidate, claims that Unilever – Ben & Jerry’s parent company – is profiting off of false advertising. Specifically, his lawsuit alleges that the claim of the ice cream being made with milk and cream from Vermont dairies participating in the “Caring Dairy” program is misleading.

According to the Ben & Jerry’s website, the program is said to work toward a “sustainable future for dairy.”

Caring Dairy offers our farmers a program for evaluating, implementing and continuously improving sustainable agricultural practices on their farms. Our belief is that the future of dairy farming is to build soil health that includes increased cover crops, alternative tilling practices, rotational crops and grazing techniques.  We also believe that high quality animal care is fundamental to the success of a farm, a well-cared for cow will produce a higher quality milk.  And of course the importance of labor that supports the entire farm, from the farmer to the farmworker.

Ehlers’ complaint asserts that a minimal amount of the dairy used in the famous ice cream is actually from the “Caring Dairy” cows.

“The remaining milk and cream originates from factory-style, mass-production dairy operations, exactly what consumers who choose Ben & Jerry’s products would like to avoid,” reads the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Burlington.

Ehlers believes that he is one of the thousands of consumers who shopped with Ben & Jerry’s at least in part due to their socially-conscious marketing, which potentially prompts customers to pursue brand loyalty and pay higher prices than they might with other brands. He claims that he and the others have been harmed by the deceitful practices of Unilever.

“Plaintiff Ehlers has purchased the Phish Food, One Love, Americone Dream, Tonight Dough, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Mint Chocolate Cookie, S’Mores, and New York Super Fudge Chunk varieties of Ben & Jerry’s products,” details the complaint, proving that he is actually a customer of the brand and not just a random guy off the street looking to make a quick buck on the back of a corporation.

The lawsuit goes on to explain that Ehlers and other consumers have been “at continued risk of real and immediate threat of repeated injury, including purchasing deceptively labeled and packaged products sold at prices above their true market value.”

Despite being offered as a possible class-action lawsuit, no other customers – let alone any of those Ehlers claims have been exposed to “threat of repeated injury” – have joined in the lawsuit.

Spokesman Sean Greenwood declined to comment on the lawsuit, but had glowing praise for the “Caring Dairy” program, calling it “the most progressive in the industry.”

While the lawsuit may be slightly dramatic (i.e., “immediate threat of repeating injury,”) it’s true that underhanded tactics such as the ones alleged in this complaint should be looked into. Promising one thing and delivering another while profiting off a product whose price has been artificially inflated to reflect what the market would pay for the promised product is dirty and unfair to the customers.

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