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Campbell settles lawsuit over low sodium label claims

By Caroline Scott-Thomas, 13-Sep-2011

Related topics: Food safety and labeling, Regulation, Sodium reduction

The Campbell Soup Company has settled a lawsuit for $1.05m, in which four New Jersey women claimed that the company’s ‘less sodium’ claim on tomato soup was misleading.

The women accused Campbell’s of selling its ‘25% less sodium’ tomato soup at a premium price, although it contained the same amount of sodium per serving – 480mg – as its regular tomato soup. Consumers could expect to pay 20 to 80 cents more for the ‘less sodium’ variety.

The company denied the allegations, saying that its labeling and advertising was accurate and in compliance with the law.

“We settled the case to avoid the expense and inconvenience associated with litigation,” the company said in a statement. “Campbell agreed to a new process for labeling and advertising claims in California to avoid inconsistent comparisons between the same varieties of reduced sodium condensed and regular condensed soup.”

The class action suit had sought an injunction against misleading labeling and a refund for customers who bought the less sodium variety at a premium to Campbell Soup’s regular version.

But Campbell’s had argued that the claim on its less sodium tomato soup does not attempt to make a comparison with its regular tomato soup, but rather with a range of its regular soups. The company said that it was not necessary for it to name one variety of soup with which its lower sodium claim would be compared, but that it could use an average amount of sodium across a range of its regular soup varieties as a reference point.

Back in April, US district judge Jerome Simandle denied a motion to dismiss the case, saying that reasonable consumers could be expected to find the less sodium claims misleading.

Simandle said in his ruling: “It is a plausible inference from the facts alleged that it was reasonable for Plaintiffs to expect that the soups they were receiving had 25%-30% less sodium than the regular tomato soup, when the soups in fact had approximately the same amount of sodium.”

Correction: This article has been corrected to reflect that the settlement amount was $1.05m, not $173,000 as originally stated.