Wal-Mart Stores Inc. was accused in a lawsuit of defrauding customers by selling Parmesan cheese touted as pure that contained wood pulp as filler.
The world’s largest retailer stocked its New York stores’ shelves with containers labeled “100% Grated Parmesan Cheese,” but tests showed Wal-Mart’s Great Value brand contained as much as 10 percent cellulose, a wood based anti-clumping agent, according to a complaint filed Tuesday in Manhattan federal court.
Customer Marc Moschetta said in the lawsuit he wouldn’t have bought the cheese if he’d been aware that “the 100% representation was false and mis-characterized the amount and percentage of Parmesan cheese in the container.”
“We take this matter seriously,” Randy Hargrove, a spokesman for Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart, said Wednesday in an e-mailed statement. “We will review the allegations once we have received the complaint and will respond appropriately with the court.”
The suit follows a Bloomberg News investigation that asked an independent laboratory to test store-bought Parmesan cheese for wood-pulp content.
The tests found Essential Everyday 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese, from Jewel-Osco, contained 8.8 percent cellulose, while Wal-Mart’s brand registered 7.8 percent. Whole Foods 365 brand didn’t list cellulose as an ingredient on the label, but still tested at 0.3 percent. Kraft Heinz Co.’s Parmesan had 3.8 percent of the filler.
Moschetta is seeking class-action status for the fraud claims, which would allow shoppers across the country to band together to press claims against Wal-Mart. He says other reviews of Wal-Mart’s house brand Parmesan cheese found higher pulp content than Bloomberg’s tests.
A California consumer filed a similar case against Kraft last week in San Francisco federal court. Samantha Lewin alleged that the company’s misrepresentations led shoppers to pay a premium for the millions of containers sold.
The New York case is Moschetta v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 16-cv-1377, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan). The California case is Lewin v. Kraft Heinz Foods Co., 16-cv-823, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).