Amanda Ramirez might not have bothered to buy the Shells & Cheese product ‘if she had known the truth’, says a proposed class action lawsuit in which she is the lead plaintiff. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Miami, seeks more than $5 million in damages on behalf of the Hialeah wife and other allegedly deceived clients. He accuses Kraft Heinz Co., the maker of the cheese cups, of deceptive and unfair business practices.
“Consumers seeing ‘ready in 3.5 minutes’ will believe that this represents the total time needed to prepare the product, i.e. from the time it is unopened to the time it is ready to be consumed,” the complaint states.
The Kraft Heinz Co. said in a statement to The Washington Post that it is aware of the “frivolous lawsuit” and “will strongly defend itself against the allegations contained in the complaint.”
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The lawsuit, previously covered by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, was filed this month by William Wright of the law firm Wright in West Palm Beach and Spencer Sheehan of Sheehan & Associates in Great Neck, NY. not immediately responded to requests for comment on Sunday afternoon.
Sheehan, whose website calls on people to get in touch with problems they’ve been told are “unsolvable,” has made a name for himself suing food makers he says are misleading consumers. He has filed more than 400 such lawsuits in recent years, NPR reported, and in doing so has “almost single-handedly caused a historic rise in the number of class action lawsuits against food and beverage companies.”
He lashed out at Kellogg, arguing that the company’s Strawberry Pop-Tarts marketing is misleading because the pastries contain additional fruit. He said Keebler and Betty Crocker were wrong to call their cookie and cake mixes fudge because they didn’t contain milk fat. And he took on Keurig Dr Pepper for the words that appear on A&W Root Beer cans: “MADE WITH AGED VANILLA.” It was among about 120 lawsuits over claims by companies that their products contain vanilla, NPR reported.
“I guess I’ve always been one to be bored [and] I never liked companies cheating people for small amounts that would be hard to get back,” Sheehan told the outlet.
In the macaroni and cheese case, the complaint alleges that Kraft Heinz Co. was able to charge a high price — $10.99 for eight 2.39 oz cups — by claiming the snack only takes 3 minutes and a half to prepare. It outlines the steps on the back of the package:
“First, consumers should ‘REMOVE the lid and cheese sauce packet’.
“Then they have to ‘ADD water to fill the line in the cup. STIR.’ Third, ‘MICROWAVE, uncovered, HIGH 3-½ min. DO NOT DRAIN.’
“Finally, they have to ‘REMOVE the contents of the cheese sauce packet.’ The defendant then notes that “the cheese sauce will thicken on standing.”
These instructions, the complaint states, “show that 3 and a half minutes is only the amount of time needed to complete one of the steps.” A truthful label would have said the product takes 3.5 minutes to microwave, he adds.
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The lawsuit accuses Kraft Heinz Co. of fraud, false and misleading advertising, breach of express warranty, negligent misrepresentation and unjust enrichment, as well as violations of laws prohibiting deceptive and unfair trade practices. Lawyers say there are likely more than 100 victims in several states where the product is sold.
Ramirez, the lead plaintiff, purchased Velveeta Shells & Cheese cups multiple times, according to the complaint. She “is like many consumers looking to stretch their money as far as possible when buying groceries,” he said, and “turns to bold value claims.”
She would purchase the mac and cheese again “when she can do so with the assurance that its depictions are consistent with her abilities, attributes, and/or makeup,” according to the complaint. But right now, she can’t trust the claims made by the Velveeta product or other similar products claiming to be ready within a specific time frame, “because she doesn’t know if those representations are true.”