Tuesday, September 8, 2015 - A series of lawsuits filed against the pepper manufacturer McCormick may be headed to multidistrict litigation after the defendants recently filed a motion to transfer before the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML). The allegations were made by competitors in the pepper market that claim McCormick lowered the amount of pepper they used in their standard tins and failed to appropriately alert customers to the change, attempting to deceive them in the process.
Plaintiffs claim that McCormick lessened the amount of pepper in their tins without adjusting the shape of the tin or clearly marking the shift in volume to customers. The allegations state that thi behavior by McCormick was done in an effort to cut costs by misleading customers into thinking that they were still paying for the same amount of pepper that was previously held in the tins before the switch. The only indication that a change had been made appeared in a small inscription on the can listing the weight of the content inside. The switch lowered the amount of pepper in each tin from 2 ounces to 1.5 ounces.
The lawsuits originally came from a Minnesota filing made by Watkins Inc. a pepper competitor of McCormick‘s. McCormick chose to file the motion to transfer the five pending lawsuits into multidistrict litigation in August. Watkins Inc. opposed the centralization of the lawsuits, but informed the JPML that they would prefer the cases to be centralized to the District Court of Minnesota if they were to be certified into an MDL. McCormick stated in the motion to transfer that the lawsuits be centralized to the company‘s home state of Maryland.
The plaintiffs claim that the price of pepper has risen internationally, and McCormick was attempting to avoid raising prices for their product by lowering the amount that was in their tins without customers noticing. The lawsuits claim that the practice began toward the beginning of the year, when McCormick made a conscious decision to intentionally underfill tins without clearly alerting customers in to save on materials costs in a practice commonly referred to as ‘slack-filling‘. The plaintiffs are claiming that the actions taken by McCormick violate the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, which clearly prohibits the actions of slack-filling by companies.
McCormick is the largest global manufacturer of pepper with annual revenues topping $10 billion. The company holds a market share over 20 percent, more than quadrupling the next highest competitor. Plaintiffs claim that the pervasiveness of the McCormick brand resulted in customers coming to expect a certain amount of pepper in each tin, and also the necessity to alert those millions of customers if the amount of pepper held i the tin were to change.
The lawsuits seeking multidistrict litigation name the 2, 4 an 8 ounce tin varieties as the sizes that cut the amount of pepper by more than 25 percent without alerting customers. The claims allege that the damages that resulted from the McCormick slack-filling have already reached north of $5 million. The Hearing Session for the McCormick pepper lawsuits are not yet scheduled to be heard by the JPML.