🍦 The most vanilla lawsuit of all time

New York attorney Spencer Sheehan has a problem with the likes of Chobani, Wegman’s and Trader Joe’s. He doesn’t believe them when they say they’re putting vanilla in various food items.

As the WSJ reports, it is leading to the legal question of our times: “Is vanilla really vanilla without vanilla beans?”

  • This all started with a can of A&W: Sheehan was drinking a root beer and saw it contained the phrase “made with aged vanilla.” He didn’t believe it and soon filed a lawsuit. 

  • The food litigation world hasn’t seen anything like it: Experts say usually just a couple dozen complaints over the “all-natural” qualities of food are seen in a year. In the last two years, more than 100 class action lawsuits related to vanilla have been filed. 

Pure vanilla vs common vanilla 

Vanilla comes from beans growing on rare plants found in countries like Madagascar. Natural vanilla flavor, used by the companies Sheehan has sued, still comes from a plant but not necessarily from vanilla beans. The natural vanilla flavor is about ¼ the cost of the pure vanilla extract from beans. 

  • Sheehan likens the difference between vanilla and natural vanilla flavor to Chanel and knockoff Chanel: “Just because you can’t tell the difference between something real and something fake, that doesn’t make it OK.” 

The Verdict: Sheehan is creating change. Although many lawsuits have been dismissed and others not yet heard, one company settled a class action case for $3 million and changed its packaging. Wegman’s has also changed the packaging on one of its vanilla-flavored items after a lawsuit.