From Vegan Burgers to Crab Rolls, False Ad Suits Continue

Advertising Law

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Claims involving vegan burgers and crab rolls were brought against national chains Burger King and Benihana in two new consumer class actions.

A strict vegan who purportedly does not eat or drink anything with animal by-products, Phillip Williams allegedly decided to try the new vegan hamburger at Burger King based on its representations that the new product is “0% beef” and “100% Whopper.”

Although the fast-food chain promotes the Impossible Whopper as vegan and made with a vegan meat substitute with “impressive meat-like appearance, texture and taste,” Williams alleges it is cooked on the same grills as traditional meat-based products, resulting in “a meat-free patty that is in fact covered in meat by-product.”

Williams further alleges that Burger King makes no disclosures on its menus that would notify consumers prior to their purchase about the manner in which the Impossible Whopper is prepared, leaving customers in the dark about the meat by-products on their vegan burger.

The lawsuit alleges violations of Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act and common law for which Williams seeks an injunction requiring, among other things, that the defendant “plainly disclose” that the Impossible Whopper is cooked on the same grills as its other meat products and pay damages to the nationwide putative class of Impossible Whopper purchasers.

On the other side of the country, Youngsuk Kim alleged that Benihana operates a “bait and switch” scam by falsely labeling and advertising food products on the menu as containing crab when in fact no crab meat was present in the product.

Kim, who purportedly ate at Benihana and consumed the rolls at issue on multiple occasions, alleges that items such as the Alaskan Roll, Rainbow Roll and California Roll all purport to contain crab but in fact feature imitation crab, in violation of various states’ unfair and deceptive practices statutes and California common law.

Kim seeks to certify a class of California residents dating back to September 2015 and a separate class of consumers in California, Arizona, New York and Texas, and requests restitution and compensatory and punitive damages.

The complaint—originally filed in California state court and removed by the defendant to federal court—also seeks an order enjoining Benihana from continuing these alleged practices and rectifying the “problems associated with the actions alleged in [the] Complaint.”

To read the complaint in Williams v. Burger King Corporation, click here.

To read the complaint in Kim v. Benihana, Inc., click here.

Why it matters: Consumer class actions alleging false advertising continue to keep the courts busy, with products ranging from vegan meat and crab rolls to the origin of mustard products and “natural” dog food. Because plaintiffs’ attorneys tend to follow consumer complaint trends, companies should regularly monitor case filings, warning letters, guidance documents and other regulatory activity to stay on top of developments.