The makers of the hazelnut-spread Nutella are facing a class-action lawsuit in the United States over ads that claim the chocolaty product is "nutritious" and part of a "healthy breakfast."
Lawyers for plaintiff Athena Hohenberg, a San Diego mother of a four-year-old, filed the claim in U.S. District Court in California this week against Ferrero U.S.A. Inc., an affiliate of Italian-based Ferrero International SA.
In her statement of claim, Ms. Hohenberg says she was "shocked to learn" from friends "that Nutella was in fact not a 'healthy,' 'nutritious' food but was instead the next best thing to a candy bar."
The claims have not been proven in court, and the case has not been certified by a judge as a class action.
The lawyer who filed the lawsuit, Ron Marron, could not be reached for comment. A spokesperson for Ferrero also could not be reached.
According to the Wall Street Journal's website, Ferrero USA declined to comment on the lawsuit specifically. But a spokeswoman, Elise Titan, said "We stand behind the quality and ingredients of Nutella hazelnut spread and the advertising of our product."
In advertising and labelling that the lawsuit calls "misleading," Nutella is shown as part of a "tasty yet balanced breakfast" alongside fresh fruit, whole wheat bread and juice.
Nutella's TV ads also show "a mother feeding Nutella to happy, healthy children," the lawsuit says.
The spread, long an iconic product in its native Italy and immensely popular across Europe, "contains dangerous levels of saturated fat," the suit claims, and "over 55 % processed sugar."
Those ingredients, the suit says, "significantly contribute to America's alarming increase in childhood obesity" and can cause heart disease, type-2 diabetes and other "serious health problems."
The lawsuit demands that Ferrero be forbidden from advertising Nutella as "healthy" or "nutritious" and launch a "corrective advertising campaign." It also demands the restitution of "all monies from the sale of Nutella, which were unjustly acquired through acts of unlawful, unfair and/or fraudulent competition."