N. America

Trade Group Sues Specialty Store Distributor for ‘False Statements’

The North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA) filed a lawsuit against California-based distributor Veronica Foods for what it called "false, misleading and scientifically unsubstantiated statements."

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Dec. 19, 2016
By Olive Oil Times Staff
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The trade group of major American importers of olive oil, the North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA), filed a law­suit against the California-based, spe­cialty store dis­trib­u­tor Veronica Foods for what it called “false, mis­lead­ing and sci­en­tif­i­cally unsub­stan­ti­ated state­ments about olive oil sold in super­mar­kets, claim­ing it lacks the health ben­e­fits con­sumers expect.”

The real­ity is that Defendant VFC’s UP mark and seal is a self-cre­ated des­ig­na­tion used exclu­sively by VFC and its retail­ers to sell VFC olive oil.- NAOOA Complaint

The law­suit comes one week after the NAOOA filed a com­plaint against TV’s ‘Dr. Oz,’ also for making unsub­stan­ti­ated claims about imported olive oils.

Veronica Foods sup­plies olive oils to hun­dreds of spe­cialty retails shops through­out the U.S. where oils are dis­played in stain­less con­tain­ers, called fusti, and cus­tomers are invited to taste oils before they make a pur­chase. Seven New York-area Veronica-sup­plied retail­ers were also named in the law­suit.

The dis­trib­u­tor and the retail­ers it sup­plies market their oils as being ‘Ultra Premium’ grade, “which it touts as the high­est stan­dard in the indus­try,” accord­ing to the NAOOA com­plaint that cited the Veronica Foods web­site.

“The real­ity is that Defendant VFC’s UP mark and seal is a self-cre­ated des­ig­na­tion used exclu­sively by VFC and its retail­ers to sell VFC olive oil. Thus, the use of the UP des­ig­na­tion itself is false and mis­lead­ing in that con­sumers are led to believe that the olive oil was cer­ti­fied, spon­sored or approved by a third party,” the NAOOA argued.

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“The UP stan­dard and seal is reserved only for VFC olive oils and cannot, pur­suant to VFC’s fed­eral trade­mark rights, be used by any other pro­ducer or seller, even if that producer’s prod­ucts meet or exceed the para­me­ters of VFC’s UP stan­dard,” the NAOOA argued.

“What Defendants fail to state to the con­sumer is that the UP des­ig­na­tion and so-called ‘high­est stan­dard’ cannot be dis­played on the pack­ag­ing of any other pro­ducer of olive oil regard­less of that olive oil’s qual­ity, because that alleged stan­dard and seal is the intel­lec­tual prop­erty of Defendant VFC and its licensees.”

The NAOOA also took issue with claims made on the web­site of a Veronica-sup­plied retailer: “Defendant D’Avolio, a retailer of VFC’s olive oil, has par­tic­u­larly tar­geted brands sold in super­mar­kets, where NAOOA mem­bers’ brands are pri­mar­ily sold. In pro­mot­ing its own UP cer­ti­fied olive oils (pur­chased from VFC), D’Avolio dis­torts find­ings of an alleged indus­try report to rep­re­sent to con­sumers that var­i­ous brands sold in super­mar­kets hold no health ben­e­fits.”

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“Defendants are engaged in a tar­geted and con­certed effort to attack the NAOOA and its mem­bers’ olive oil prod­ucts sold in super­mar­kets,” the com­plaint said.

“Rigorous, peer-reviewed sci­en­tific research has con­sis­tently shown that all types of olive oil have sig­nif­i­cant health ben­e­fits, not just those avail­able in spe­cialty retail stores,” said Eryn Balch, exec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the NAOOA. “Because the health ben­e­fits are proven across the cat­e­gory, we don’t want con­sumers to be misled into making a false choice between buying a more expen­sive olive oil or not buying olive oil at all.”

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The law­suit was filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of New York. In addi­tion to Veronica Foods, which is based in Oakland, Calif., the named retail defen­dants include D’Avolio, Inc. (Williamsville, N.Y.), O Live Brooklyn, LLC (Brooklyn, N.Y.), The Crushed Olive of Babylon, Inc. (Babylon, N.Y.), The Crushed Olive of Huntington, Inc. (Huntington, N.Y.), The Crushed Olive of Sayville, Inc. (Sayville, N.Y.), The Crushed Olive of Stonybrook, Inc. (Stony Brook, N.Y.), and The Crushed Olive of Wading River, Inc. (Port Jefferson, N.Y.).

Veronica Foods responded by saying it “stands by the truth and accu­racy of all of the state­ments we have made related to olive oil and our related prod­ucts.”

“We are com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing con­sumers with the high­est qual­ity prod­ucts avail­able and rely on state of the art sci­en­tific research and inde­pen­dent lab test­ing,” the com­pany wrote in an email to Olive Oil Times. “Our sources include pub­lished U.C. Davis research, test­ing and research by Modern Olives Laboratory, a world lead­ing olive oil test­ing com­pany, and lead­ing experts such as Christian Gertz and Thomas Mueller.”

“The North American Olive Oil Association (the “NAOOA”) is a trade orga­ni­za­tion that rep­re­sents some of the largest national and inter­na­tional olive oil sell­ers in the coun­try. We believe the NAOOA has filed this law­suit against Veronica Foods in an attempt to inter­fere with our efforts to improve the qual­ity of olive oil and accu­racy of olive oil label­ing,” said Veronica Foods in its writ­ten response. “We look for­ward to prov­ing the false­hood of inac­cu­rate and self-serv­ing alle­ga­tions made by the NAOOA in court.”