Class Action Claims Proceed Swimmingly Against ALDI

On May 17, 2022, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois entered order denying the national grocery retailer ALDI’s motion to dismiss class action claims alleging that ALDI falsely and deceptively marketed its Atlantic Salmon as “sustainably sourced.”

The class action complaint alleges that contrary to ALDI’s representation “Simple. Sustainable. Seafood.” on their salmon packaging shown below, ALDI sources its salmon from environmentally destructive fish farms.

Among other things, the plaintiffs allege that the fish farms used to source the salmon apply unsustainable practices by corralling thousands of fish into cages in natural waterways, which poses a risk to aquatic life. Accordingly, the plaintiffs assert claims for false advertising, breach of warranty, unjust enrichment and injunctive relief.

In its motion to dismiss, ALDI argued that consumers are not misled by its labeling. ALDI contended the label “BAP Certified” (meaning Best Aquaculture Practices) also appears on the package, and when “Simple. Sustainable. Seafood.” and “BAP Certified” are read together, a reasonable consumer would know that the salmon is sustainable because it is BAP certified.

The court disagreed. It reasoned that the labels were not only separated by proximity and color scheme on the package, but that reasonable consumers would not know what the BAP label means – much less know how it relates to ALDI’s claim of sustainability. The court also ruled that sufficient facts were pled to show injury because the class representative claimed she paid a premium for the salmon, but did not receive a sustainable food product as advertised. Therefore, the court declined to dismiss the false advertising and breach of express warranty claims.

The court did, however, dismiss the plaintiffs’ unjust enrichment and injunctive relief claims, ruling that (a) the express warranty (i.e., that the food product was sustainable) precluded an unjust enrichment claim concerning the same subject matter, and (b) the class representative could not establish that she will be harmed again without an order prohibiting ALDI from marketing the fish as sustainable, because she could simply choose not to purchase the salmon.

Do you look at the labels on food packaging when you grocery shop? They may have major implications. To understand the risks and benefits associated with advertising or defending claims brought against you regarding similar marketing strategies, please contact Joseph A. LaPlaca of Levin Ginsburg at (312) 368-0100.