The consumer rights class-action suit filed 1/19 by an Alabama law firm (and in California by a San Diego firm) on behalf of Taco Bell customer Amanda Obney that claims the Yum! Brands chain engages in false advertising by claiming “seasoned ground beef” or “seasoned beef” in its ads is getting a big response with a campaign involving Taco Bell President Greg Creed.
The ads in question include print, online and television—and, of course, packaging and in-store materials.
The suit, pending in federal court in Santa Ana, CA, evokes the Consumers Legal Remedies Act and Truth in Advertising laws, and claims the company allegedly only uses about 35% real beef, with the remaining 65% containing binders and extenders including maltodextrin, sodium phosphate, autolyzed yeast extract and silicon dioxide. The suit says that not meet the USDA’s minimum requirements to be labeled as “beef,” as well as Merriam-Webster’s definition. Obney claims the food caused her physical harm and caused her to lose money.
“This action seeks to require Taco Bell to properly advertise and label these food items and to engage in a corrective advertising campaign to educate the public about the true content of its food products,” the suit says. It only asks for the “false” advertising to be stopped and for attorney’s fees to be paid.
It says Taco Bell should be calling it “taco meat filling” (USDA says that means at least 40% fresh meat) rather than “seasoned ground beef.” In its packaging distribution labels to restaurants, it does call the product “taco meat filling.”
Taco Bell is also threatening to sue its accusers of filing false claims.
The company is placing full page ads in national newspapers including Wall Street Journal, NY Times and USA Today as well as in local papers including Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, LA Times, Orange County Register, San Diego Tribune, and San Francisco Chronicle. The company is also including an effort to reach its Hispanic customers.
The company also launched a YouTube video featuring Creed speaking about the facts of the brands’ recipe. The video is on the company’s YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/tacobell), Facebook page (www.facebook.com/tacobell), website (www.tacobell.com) and supported with an online campaign on leading search engines and social media networks.
See the video here:
The ad copy reads:
“Thank you for suing us.
Here’s the truth about seasoned beef.
The claims made against Taco Bell and our seasoned beef are absolutely false.
Our beef is 100% USDA inspected, just like the quality beef you buy in a supermarket and prepare in your home. It is then slow-cooked and simmered in our unique recipe of seasonings, spices, water, and other ingredients to provide Taco Bell’s signature taste and texture.
Plain ground beef tastes boring.
The only reason we add anything to our beef is to give the meat flavor and quality. Otherwise we’d end up with nothing more than the bland flavor of ground beef, and that doesn’t make for great-tasting tacos.
So here are the REAL percentages.
88% Beef and 12% Secret Recipe.
In case you’re curious, here’s our not-so-secret recipe.
We start with USDA-inspected quality beef (88%). Then add water to keep it juicy and moist (3%). Mix in Mexican spices and flavors, including salt, chili pepper, onion powder, tomato powder, sugar, garlic powder, and cocoa powder (4%). Combine a little oats, caramelized sugar, yeast, citric acid, and other ingredients that contribute to the flavor, moisture, consistency, and quality of our seasoned beef (5%).
We stand behind the quality of our seasoned beef 100% and we are proud to serve it in all our restaurants. We take any claims to the contrary very seriously and plan to take legal action against those who have made false claims against our seasoned beef.”
President, Taco Bell
RBR-TVBR observation: This is probably the best move for the chain. Of course, it will have to prove its ingredients are as beefy as it claims. There are law firms that are happy to take on suits such as this because they do get paid if they win. It’s also free publicity. But really, all Taco Bell has to prove here is that the suit uses more than 35% USDA-defined real beef in its product. By specifying exact percentages in the suit, it leaves itself open to countersuit liability. Attorneys will also argue for Taco Bell that “taco meat filling” is a food processing term and is not applicable to ad copy.