A woman is suing Kraft, claiming the preparation time of Velveeta macaroni is misleading

A Florida woman has accused Kraft Heinz of misleading advertising based on the time it takes to cook a single-serving cup of microwaveable mac and cheese.

While the company markets its Velveeta Shells & Cheese as “ready in 3 1/2” minutes, Amanda Ramirez says that’s just the amount of time each cup takes in the microwave — and that the actual preparation process is from stirring in water to Allowing the cheese sauce to thicken takes longer (she doesn’t say how much).

A 15-page class action lawsuit filed earlier this month alleges that parent company Kraft Heinz is selling more of the product and at a higher price than if it didn’t mislead consumers about the pasta’s preparation time.

“As a result of the false and misleading representations, the product is sold at a premium price, approximately no less than $10.99 for eight 2.39 ounce cups, excluding taxes and sales, higher than comparable products, presented in a manner that is not misleading, and higher than it would be sold without the misleading representations and omissions,” the court filings said.

Ramirez’s legal team says she’s like many consumers who are “trying to stretch their money as much as possible when buying groceries” and chose Velveeta over other similar products because of the prep time clearly promised on the label. She would not have bought it “if she had known the truth,” it says.

The lawsuit seeks more than $5 million in damages and aims to cover consumers in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, New Mexico, Alaska, Iowa, Tennessee and Virginia who bought the mac and cheese Cups purchased during the applicable limitation period. It says there are more than 100 such customers as the product is sold online and in stores across the country.

The Kraft Heinz Company called the lawsuit “frivolous” in a statement to NPR and said it will “firmly defend itself against the allegations in the lawsuit.”

While some might be quick to dismiss the case as cheesy, Ramirez’s team says it’s important to hold companies accountable in all forms. Will Wright, one of Ramirez’s attorneys, told NPR via email that while he had received some criticism of the case, “misleading advertising is misleading advertising.”

“There are a lot of people who feel like this is just a bit of a fib and not really a case and I understand that,” he wrote. “But we strive for something better. We want American companies to be straightforward and honest when promoting their products.”

He added: “My firm also represents clients in what most believe are more compelling cases (arsenic in baby formula, etc.), but we don’t believe companies should be given a pass for misleading advertising. Consumers deserve better.”

A matter of trust, according to the lawsuit

Velveeta’s claim that a cup of Mac will be ready in 3 1/2 minutes is false and misleading because the microwave is just one of several necessary steps, the lawsuit alleges.

The instructions on the back of the package outline four steps: remove the lid and cheese sauce pouch, add water to the fill line and stir, microwave for 3 1/2 minutes, then stir the cheese sauce one that says in the instructions “will thicken on standing.”

Therefore, according to the lawsuit, the product could not possibly be ready to eat in as little as 210 seconds, and the label would only be accurate if it said the snack took 3 1/2 minutes to microwave.

It adds that Ramirez believes Kraft Heinz accurately portrays its product in part because it is “a trusted company known for its high-quality products that are honestly marketed to consumers.”

“Defendants’ representations and omissions regarding the product went beyond the specific representations on the packaging because they included the promises and commitments of the additional labeling of quality, transparency and customer focus for which it is known,” it said.

In fact, the lawsuit says that Ramirez fully intends to purchase the same product again “if she can do so with confidence that its depictions are consistent with its abilities, attributes, and/or composition.”

Until then, she can’t rely on the labeling and marketing of not just this microwavable Mac, but other similar products that claim they’ll be ready in a certain amount of time, “because she’s not sure those depictions are.” truthfully.”

It’s unclear where Ramirez’s case will go from here. Wright believes the most likely scenario is that Kraft will file a motion to dismiss in a few weeks, which his team will oppose. Then, he says, “the judge will tell us how he feels about our case.”

Ramirez works with an attorney known for his food marketing lawsuits

Another member of Ramirez’s legal team is Spencer Sheehan, a New York-based plaintiff’s attorney, who has filed hundreds of lawsuits over the past few years alleging misleading claims in food advertising and packaging.

As NPR reported, Sheehan files about three such lawsuits a week, and “his productivity has almost single-handedly resulted in an all-time increase in the number of class action lawsuits filed against food and beverage companies — by more than 1,000% since 2008.”

Sheehan has filed over 100 lawsuits alleging that various products, from soda to soy milk, are marketing “vanilla” products that actually use synthetic vanilla or other flavorings either in addition to or in place of the more expensive vanilla bean.

Some of his other recent cases include Frito-Lay’s allegation of not using enough real lime juice in its “touch of lime” Tostito chips (status: pending) and the claim that Kellogg overused the amount of fruit in its strawberry Misrepresents pop tarts (a federal judge dismissed it earlier this year). Many of his cases are “voluntarily dismissed” – presumably settled – rather than going to court.

As Sheehan told NPR last October, “I think I’ve always been the guy to get angry [and] I’ve never liked it when companies cheated people out of small amounts that are difficult to recoup.”

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