How do you measure happiness? That’s the question prompting a lawsuit lambasting ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s for claiming its milk and cream comes from ‘happy cows’. Back in October, environmentalist James Ehlers filed a Class Action Complaint against the company in Burlington, Vermont where Ben & Jerry’s was founded.
Ehlers alleged that Ben & Jerry’s mislead consumers by suggesting products were “made with milk and cream sourced exclusively from ‘happy cows’ on Vermont dairies that participate in a special, humane ‘Caring Dairy’ program” when most of the milk and cream actually comes from “factory-style, mass-production dairy operations.”
The staunch environmentalist also said that consumers who bought Ben & Jerry’s ice cream were “socially and environmentally conscious” and had been deceived by the representations made.
Ben & Jerry’s response
After a series of news reports emerged, Ben & Jerry’s took action. On January 13, parent company and global FMCG magnate Unilever filed a motion to dismiss Ehlers’ complaint.
The company said that Ehlers claim that he purchased products based solely on the belief that all dairy used by the brand was sourced exclusively from ‘happy cows’ was unfounded.
“The statement that Ben & Jerry’s uses milk & cream “from happy cows” does not mislead consumers,” the Unilever motion read. “As an initial matter, ‘happy cows’ is non-actionable puffery because it is a statement of opinion, not a statement of fact. Happiness cannot be measured objectively, and Ehlers could not take a cow’s deposition to ask how it feels.”
Further, Unilever confirmed that nowhere on the Ben & Jerry’s site does it claim to source exclusively from ‘happy cows’.
“The website does not make this claim. It contains dozens of links that provide information on Ben & Jerry’s social and environmental programs, including its “Caring Dairy” program, which is designed to encourage dairies to use more humane practices by offering premiums to dairies that qualify,” Unilever said.
‘Happy cows’ dropped
Since reports first emerged, consumers have been quick to point out that the ‘happy cows’ statement is no longer featured on Ben & Jerry’s packaging. The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) said the removal of the phrase was a major win for socially conscious consumers.
“The removal of misleading ‘happy cows’ claims is a victory for consumers and an indication that Ben & Jerry’s can’t back up those claims,” OCA International director Ronnie Cummins said.
But irrespective of the disposition of the cows in questions, Ehlers’ claims were effectively retrospective before they began.
Speaking with Inside Franchise Business, Ben & Jerry’s revealed that the phrase ‘happy cows’ was removed months before the class action complaint was even filed.
“While we haven’t done an official survey of our cows’ happiness, we’re proud of the work we’ve done with Vermont’s family farmers over the past 35 years, and we believe our Caring Dairy program is the most progressive in the industry,” the company said.
“We’re committed to building a resilient, regenerative dairy supply that benefits animals, people, and the planet.”
This story first appeared in sister site Inside Franchise Business.