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.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
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.”