Whole Foods and two other supermarkets in New Jersey have just been hit with class-action lawsuits filed on behalf of an estimated 10,000 customers. The alleged misdeed? The natural foods grocer, along with Acme and Wegmans’s, has been “violating the state’s Consumer Fraud Act through deceptive advertising and other improper practices” in their respective bakeries. No one is doing anything as heinous as trying to pass off day-old baguettes as ultrafresh, or dilute their supply of whole-wheat flour with the bleached stuff, the lawsuit contends. Instead, the legal papers claim that some of the bread sold as “store-baked” is technically parbaked, meaning it is not made from scratch on the premises.
It may be depressing news to people who care about sandwiches, but offsite production is how bread in America tends to work, and in general this is a silly lawsuit. Long Island-based company Wenner supplies a staggering array of precooked “artisan” loaves that just need to be popped into a hot oven to crisp up, for example, before they can then be labeled as “house-baked.” Legal papers suggest that customers expecting some old-world baker toiling away at an ancient coal oven somewhere behind the bagel bins actually got “bread and bakery products that were frozen, delivered to its stores and then re-baked or partially baked in store.” This, presumably, ruined their lives.
Whole Foods did not comment on the suit, but Wegman’s and Acme denied any deceptive practices. If it advances, expect a lot more court cases just like it that pivot on semantics, along the same lines as a recent wave of lawsuits targeting Maker’s Mark, Tito’s Vodka, and others for not actually being “made by hand.” On the scale of injustices, this one would seem to rank way, way low. Nonetheless, lawyers are seeking damages of at least $100 per shopper. In terms of half-baked things, that’s a lot of dough.