Rum Blend Only As Old As Its Youngest Component, Suit Says (subscription to Law360 required)

  • On September 9, 2021, a complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against Diageo North America.  The proposed class of plaintiffs allege that deceptive packaging led them to pay a premium for Ron Zacapa Centenario under the mistaken belief that the product contained only rum aged 23 years.
  • This new class action lawsuit is bolstered largely by the claim that statements on a cylinder that holds the bottle of rum constitute an age statement and that the age statement violates the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s (TTB) rule under 27 CFR 5.40(e) which permits a voluntary age statement in the form “__ years old,” with the blank to be filled in with the age of the youngest distilled spirits in the product.  The plaintiffs contend that a phrase “SISTEMA 23 SOLERA,” which appears in bold font, adjacent to the product name “Ron Zacapa Centenario” in the upper to middle part of the package, together with the words “Aged At A High Altitude in Oak Barrels,” which is part of a phrase printed in smaller font near the bottom of secondary packaging for the rum, imply that the product consists entirely of rum that has been aged 23 years but, in fact, is made by a solera method of stacking multiple layers of aging barrels on top of each other in a manner that results in a blend of rums aged from 6 to 23 years.
  • As a reminder to our readers, there is no private right of action to enforce federal labeling regulations, although such regulations, especially FDA’s food labeling regulations in Part 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations, are frequently invoked in deceptive advertising lawsuits as evidence of consumer deception.  Keller and Heckman will continue to monitor and report on this case and other food litigation news.