(Adds Ferrero statement)
By Michel Rose
MILAN, April 29 (Reuters) - Italian confectionery group Ferrero has agreed to set aside $3 million to settle a class-action lawsuit championed by a Californian mother after she discovered the group’s Nutella chocolate spread packed more calories than jam or syrup.
Notices of class action settlements said that Ferrero USA Inc., the group’s U.S. division, would pay up to $4 for every jar of Nutella bought in California since August 2009, or bought anywhere else in the United States since January 2008.
The notices posted on nutellaclassactionsettlement.com said the settlement was for $3,050,000 in total.
Ferrero USA also agreed to “modify certain marketing statements about Nutella” and to give more prominence to nutrition labels on Nutella jars, the notices said.
“Ferrero USA continues to stand by its product,” a spokeswoman for Ferrero said on Sunday. “We believe that it is in the best interest of the company to resolve these matters, and have reached an agreement with the parties involved.”
Athena Hohenberg, the mother of a 4-year old in San Diego, California, launched the class-action lawsuit last year, alleging that Ferrero was promoting Nutella as something “healthier than it actually is,” court documents said.
Ferrero lists sugar, palm oil, hazelnuts, cocoa and skimmed milk as Nutella’s main ingredients. The typical serving size of 2 tablespoons contains 200 calories and 11 grams of fat, it says on its website.
It markets the dark, creamy paste worldwide as “an example of a tasty yet balanced breakfast” when combined with milk, orange juice and wholewheat bread.
“Ms. Hohenberg was surprised and upset to learn that Nutella was in fact not a ‘healthy, nutritious’ food but instead a product with the nutritional properties of a candy bar,” the lawsuit said.
It is not the first time the spread, popular with children and young adults all over Europe, is criticised for exaggerating its health benefits.
In 2008, the British industry watchdog said a television commercial for Nutella had broken advertising rules because it overstated the role Nutella can play in a child’s balanced diet.
Two years ago, Italy complained to the European Union over the impact of stricter food labelling on confectionary products, with Ferrero executives leading the charge against Brussels.
Ferrero is one of Italy’s richest and most successful family-owned companies, but also one of its more secretive. It had pre-tax earnings of 856 million euros ($1.14 billion) on sales of 7.2 billion euros for the year to end-August 2011.
Nutella was invented in 1944 by Pietro Ferrero in a patisserie in Alba, near Turin. The company, which also makes Kinder chocolates and Tic Tac sweets, has remained in family hands since his death in 1949. (Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Susan Fenton)