Barilla Isn't Really ‘Italy's #1 Brand of Pasta,' According to Lawsuit

A trademarked slogan has put this pasta company in hot water

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Whether it is disbelief over the fact that Froot Loops are all actually flavored the same regardless of color or outrage over the fact that Anheuser-Busch’s "Ritas" drinks don't contain any tequila or that Texas Pete hot sauce is not, in fact, made in Texas, people hate to be fooled when it comes to their food. This may be why, according to one lawsuit, words — specifically those on food packaging — matter. 

On Oct. 17,  Barilla’s attempt to throw out a case brought against them was denied by a judge in the United States District Court of the Northern District of California, meaning that the lawsuit would move forward as scheduled.

The pasta company was initially sued by individuals alleging false, misleading and deceptive marketing practices in regards to the labeling of certain Barilla-brand pastas. The reason? Its slogan: “Italy’s #1 brand of pasta.”

The plaintiffs, Matthew Sinatro and Jessica Prost, filed a class-action lawsuit against Barilla America, Inc., accusing the company of labeling its pasta misleadingly with the slogan, in order to "increase profits and to obtain an unfair competitive advantage."

They also state that since people think pasta from Italy holds “a certain prestige and (are) generally viewed as a higher quality product,” the fact that Barilla pasta doesn’t always come from Italy is deceptive.

Sinatro and Prost said in the suit that its slogan and packaging causes customers to believe that Barilla’s pastas are made in Italy from ingredients sourced in Italy, adding that the green, white and red colors of Italy’s flag surrounding the slogan on the company’s boxes is “further perpetuating the notion that the Products are authentic pastas from Italy.”

Sinatro and Prost go on to point out the products are actually manufactured in Barilla’s plants in Iowa and New York and that the pasta uses ingredients sourced from countries other than Italy. They say this knowledge would have caused them not to purchase the products had they known their delicious Italian pasta was actually from the plain old United States.

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The lawsuit further states that Sinatro allegedly bought one box of Classic Barilla Blue Box Angel Hair Pasta and Prost allegedly purchased two boxes of Classic Barilla Blue Box Spaghetti as the basis of the lawsuit, but seek to include 52 more Barilla products they didn’t buy that use the same labeling tactics as the three boxes they did buy.

“According to Plaintiffs, Barilla ‘deliberately designed and executed a decades long marketing campaign to identify the Barilla brand, company, and Products at issue in this case, as authentic, genuine Italian pastas—made from ingredients sources [sic] in Italy (like durum wheat), and manufactured in Italy,’” reads the legal filing.

The plaintiffs also allege that Barilla-made websites like a Barilla Historical Archive, a Barilla Pasta Museum and Barilla Academy were “all designed to promote the brand and company’s Italian identity” and convince customers that Barilla pastas “come from Italian ingredients, (are) processed and manufactured in Italian factories, and then exported for sale to various countries,” like the U.S.

If you’re wondering about its history, Barilla does actually trace its origins to Italy. According to the company’s website, founder Pietro Barilla opened a bread and pasta shop in Parma, Italy in 1877, and to this day, the company is owned by his descendants. These days, the pasta is made in 30 production districts: 15 in Italy and 15 in the rest of the world, according to Barilla. 

“Barilla Pasta that is sold in the United States is made in our plants in Ames, IA and Avon, NY, with a few exceptions,” reads a page on Barilla’s website, adding that Barilla Tortellini and Barilla Oven Ready Lasagne are actually made in Italy.  

The company also notes where its pasta is made on its website, noting that its Barilla Italy products state “Product of Italy, Distributed by Barilla America, Inc.” on its packaging if it is, in fact, made in Italy. Barilla also said it opened two American production plants, one in Ames, Iowa in 1998 and one in Avon, New York in 2007, adding it also has products made in Canada.

“The Barilla family was very concerned about maintaining Barilla’s high quality standards in the new plant,” reads the website. “Consequently, the machines used in our Ames and Avon plants are the same as used in our plant in Parma, Italy. The recipe and the wheat blend are the same as that used in Parma, Italy. Barilla purchases its wheat from around the world, ending up with the best wheat available.”

When reached for comment on the lawsuit, a Barilla spokesperson had this to say:

“The most recent decision in the ongoing legal matter simply reflects the Court’s early conclusion that the lawsuit can proceed. Barilla remains committed to vigorously defend against these unfounded claims, as the wording on the box clearly states: ‘Made in the U.S.A. with U.S.A. and imported ingredients.’ We’re very proud of the brand’s Italian heritage, the company’s Italian know-how, and the quality of our pasta in the U.S. and globally.”

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