Snackmaker must face lawsuit over cheddar 'mozzarella sticks'

REUTERS/Vivek Prakash
  • Potential class action claims label dupes buyers into purchasing a TGIF-branded cheddar-based snack food
  • TGIF dismissed from suit, only licensed its logo to snackmaker Inventure, judge says

(Reuters) - A potential nationwide class action over the absence of mozzarella cheese in the supermarket snack food item “TGI Fridays Mozzarella Snack Sticks” can proceed against manufacturer/distributor Inventure Foods Inc but not against TGI Friday’s Inc, a federal judge in Chicago has ruled.

In a suit filed early last year, plaintiff Amy Joseph accused both TGIF and Inventure of duping consumers by calling the bagged snacks “mozzarella” sticks when the fine print on the back of the package reveals they are made with cheddar cheese.

But for that “misbranding,” Joseph says, consumers would not buy the snacks or would pay less for them.

U.S. District Judge Robert M. Dow Jr denied Inventure’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit on Monday.

Inventure argued that it never said the product contained any mozzarella, and that no reasonable consumer would believe a “shelf-stable, crunchy snack product” contained actual mozzarella. It also questioned Joseph’s “motives for purchasing the product,” noting that she has filed at least eight other consumer class actions in the past decade.

Dow, however, said Joseph plausibly alleged that a reasonable consumer would believe “a product labelled ‘Mozzarella Stick Snacks’ with an image of mozzarella sticks would bear some resemblance to mozzarella sticks, which presumably contain some mozzarella cheese” – especially since the TGIF logo “has a strong correlation to the appetizer mozzarella sticks.”

Dow granted TGIF’s motion to be dismissed from the suit, though, ruling that the restaurant franchisor could not be responsible for any misbranding because it had done nothing more than license its trademarked logo to Inventure, which has made and marketed a line of TGIF-inspired bagged snacks since 2000.

Dow also ruled that Inventure’s motion to block the case from proceeding as a nationwide class action was “premature.” Joseph’s lead lawyer, Thomas Zimmerman Jr of Zimmerman Law Offices, emphasized that portion of the ruling in an email on Tuesday.

“We are pleased with the court’s ruling,” Zimmerman wrote. “The court agreed with us that the case may proceed as a nationwide class action, and we intend to pursue the nationwide class against Inventure.”

Inventure and TGIF were jointly represented by attorneys at Cozen O’Connor, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

After Dow’s ruling, the court directed the attorneys to participate in a “preliminary settlement discussion” on Dec. 5.

The case is Joseph v. TGI Friday’s Inc, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois No. 21-cv-1340.

For Joseph: Thomas Zimmerman and Matthew De Re of Zimmerman Law Offices

For TGI Friday’s and Inventure Foods: Christopher Hennessy and Richard Fama of Cozen O'Connor

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