HomeWorldI’m a lawyer who sues over BS food labels — these are the worst offenders
I’m a lawyer who sues over BS food labels — these are the worst offenders
September 19, 2023
This is food for thought.
New York’s “vanilla vigilante” lawyer — famed for suing food and beverage brands over deceptive labeling — says there are several popular products that shoppers should look closely at if they want to avoid being scammed at the supermarket.
While that suit was dismissed, the Great Neck, Long Island-based litigator has also gone after other supermarket staples, including Snapple, saying their “all-natural” fruit drinks contain surprisingly little actual juice.
“Just be careful — because companies are trying to trick people,” Sheehan, 44, told The Post in a new interview.
Read on for Sheehan’s list of the worst offenders in the grocery aisles nationwide:
Breads and juices
The legal eagle believes that the most deceptive packages are often on breads and fruit juices — and he is urging consumers not to fall for fancy words and images.
“Many breads in the bread aisle of the supermarket will contain labels and names such as ‘multigrain,’ ‘stone grain,’ ‘oat grain’ and ‘hearty wheat’ when they are actually only refined grains,” Sheehan said in the suit.
“Despite the labeling of the Product as ‘Brown Bread,’ with a dark brown color … the Product is not made of mainly whole grains,” the suit read.
That case was also dismissed by a judge, but Sheehan insists that many other bread brands are making bogus claims.
Meanwhile, the attorney alleges that “fruit” juice companies are another egregious offender when it comes to dubious labeling.
“Many products in the juice aisle will be described as ‘mango,’ ‘passion fruit’ or ‘pineapple’ when they are mainly white grape juice or apple juice with just a drop of the flavor of mango or passion fruit or pineapple,” Sheehan insisted.
‘Vanilla’ flavored products
Sheehan has previously been dubbed New York’s “vanilla vigilante” for filing multiple suits against companies that claim that their products contain real vanilla.
Sheehan has also sued Conagra Brands for claiming that its popular Snack Pack Chocolate Fudge Pudding is “made with real milk.”
The attorney claimed in the suit that none of the ingredients meet the Food and Drug Administration’s definition of milk because they don’t contain enough milk fat.
Muesli, granola and energy bars
New York City nutritionist Dr. Lisa Young agrees that the labels on supermarket staples can be particularly pernicious.
She told The Post that muesli, granola and energy-bar products are also among the worst offenders.
Young said such food items are often marketed as “better-for-you products,” duping shoppers into believing they have health benefits. Therefore, consumers are not only likelier to purchase the items, they’re also likelier to consume the snacks in greater quantities.
Meanwhile, both Sheehan and Young agree that it’s easy for shoppers to fall for deceptive labeling.
“When I’m shopping, I don’t have a lot of time,” Sheehan admits, saying he often has to stop himself from believing claims on the front of an aesthetically pleasing package. “I’m in a rush and I’m doing two things at once.”
Young said many of those highly processed packaged food items are also cheaper to purchase than organic options, which can be particularly problematic for families struggling to make ends meet amid astronomical inflation.
What to do when a box of Strawberry Pop-Tarts is cheaper than a punnet of actual strawberries?
Sheehan and Young said it’s important for shoppers to be skeptical every time they enter the supermarket — and flip the box or bottle over to scan the ingredients list and any fine print.
“Pay no attention whatsoever to claims [made by manufacturers],” Young implored. “The No. 1 thing you want to look at is the ingredients list — and the order of the ingredients. That is so important.”
However, Sheehan and Young aren’t sounding the alarm of “BS” food labels in a bid to shame shoppers about their eating habits or make them feel further anxiety and guilt about their purchases.
They simply want to raise awareness about how pervasive the dubious claims can be.
“It’s okay to have a treat, it’s okay to have something fun,” Young declared — just as long as you know what’s inside of it.