Is Wegmans vanilla ice cream a fraud? Class action lawsuit says it is

A class-action lawsuit says Wegmans’ vanilla ice cream is a fraud because it doesn’t actually use real vanilla extract. The ice cream instead uses natural flavors to make it taste like vanilla, misleading customers, the lawsuit argues.

The lawsuit includes side-by-side comparisons with other ice cream brands, showing pictures of the packaging and reciting ingredient lists as the plaintiffs accuse Wegmans of ripping off its ice cream-loving patrons.

The natural flavors listed in Wegmans-brand vanilla ice cream are compared to the likes of Haagen Dazs and Publix, which include real vanilla, according to the lawsuit.

Wegmans denied the claims to TV station WHAM. “We believe that the labeling of our ice cream fully complies with all regulations and industry standards, and is not misleading in any way.” spokeswoman Jo Natale told the station.

The grocery store chain has, in some markets, a cult-like following, as Bloomberg News describes it. But nonetheless, the attorneys argue that the store-brand ice cream is a fraud. “While ‘food fraud’ has no agreed-upon definition, its typologies encompass an ever-expanding, often overlapping range of techniques with one common goal: giving consumers less than what they bargained for,” the lawsuit said.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs filed the suit Oct. 4 in the Southern District of New York. The 41-page court filing asks a judge to certify the lawsuit as a class action.

Beyond the dry legal arguments over injured parties and breaches of express warranty, the attorneys took pains to show they did their homework on the background and modern-day use of ice cream.

“Ice cream is a year-round treat enjoyed by 96% of Americans,” the lawsuit says. “Its popularity is attributed ‘to the perfect combination of elements – sugar, fat, frozen water, and air – that make up the mouthwatering concoction.’”

“Ice cream is defined by a minimum of 10 percent milkfat, weighing no less than 4.5 pounds to the gallon and containing less than 1.4 % egg yolk solids,” the court filing says.

The lawsuit includes this anecdote: “According to ice cream lore, Thomas Jefferson may have discovered vanilla ice cream when a bottle of vanilla extract accidentally spilled into the frozen milk and cream dessert he was preparing during the summer he wrote our Constitution.”

And in another paragraph, the lawyers explain in the suit: “The applications of vanilla ice cream include its centerpiece between chocolate wafers (‘sandwich’), enrobed in chocolate on a stick (‘bar’), topping a warm slice of fresh-baked pie (‘à la Mode’), drizzled with hot fudge and sprinkled with crushed nuts and topped by a maraschino cherry (‘sundae’) or dunked in a cold frothy glass of root beer (‘float’).”

The plaintiffs want the court to make Wegmans label its ice cream properly, along with monetary damages that could total more than $5 million.

Attorneys Spencer Sheehan of Great Neck, New York, and Michael Reese of New York City are representing named plaintiffs Quincy Steele and Jimmy Arriola in the lawsuit.

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Charles Duncan covers what’s happening right now across North and South Carolina, from breaking news to fun or interesting stories from across the region. He holds degrees from N.C. State University and Duke and lives two blocks from the ocean in Myrtle Beach.