Cento Fine Foods, the largest seller of San Marzano tomatoes in the U.S., has been hit with two lawsuits alleging that their canned tomatoes are not what they purport to be. One is pending in the Eastern District of New York; the other, in the Northern District of California.
Cento's website says that its San Marzano Whole Peeled Plum Tomatoes "are grown in the Sarnese Nocerio area of Italy, renowned for its especially fruitful soil as a result of its proximity to Mount Vesuvius...[and] are certified by an independent third-party agency to ensure their superior quality."
Purported class action plaintiffs allege, however, that they're not really San Marzanos and that consumers are being defrauded into paying a higher price that real San Marzanos can command for their reputation for better taste. As one complaint notes, "It is implausible that defendant can sell more San Marzano tomatoes than all other companies in the US, combined, and do so by cultivating only four fields."
This case has implications for more than just foodies. Like other cases concerning geographic designations in product names and taglines, in advertising or on labels, this one highlights that such claims matter to enough to consumers (and competitors) to engender lawsuits, especially if such products can command a premium price.
Think of the tomatoes like Champagne, which must come from the eponymous region in France to be worthy of the name: One of many Italian standards for San Marzanos is that they must come from a limited number of fields in one agricultural region of southwestern Italy, the Agro Sarnese-Noceino. The same variety of tomato can be grown elsewhere, but it won’t be an official San Marzano.