A lawsuit filed in California contends the Kroger Co. used deceptive practices to market its in-store brand of chicken.
The lawsuit, filed late Tuesday in California Superior Court in Los Angeles County, claims the Cincinnati-based grocery chain knowingly deceived shoppers by marketing its “Simple Truth” premium-priced chicken line as using animals that were humanely raised, according to a report from Reuters .
Kroger, the biggest supper market operator in the United States, is accused of raising the chicken under standard commercial farming methods but using packaging and advertising materials that suggest otherwise, according to the report.
The "Simple Truth" chicken products are packaged with labeling that indicates the birds used were raised "in a humane environment" and "cage free," according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit, which is seeking class-action status against the company, reads in part:
Looking to profit from growing consumer awareness of, and concern with, the treatment of farm animals raised for meat production, Kroger engaged in a deceptive and misleading marketing scheme to promote its 'Simple Truth' store brand chicken as having been sourced from chickens raised 'cage free in a humane environment.'
As of Wednesday, Kroger officials said they not had an opportunity to review the lawsuit, Anna Ortega v. The Kroger Co. However, Keith Dailey, the company spokesperson, said Kroger believes its package labeling is accurate.
"What we have on our Simple Truth chicken label is information for our customers that we believe is accurate, and we intend to vigorously defend our label," Dailey told Reuters.
The Kroger website for Simple Truth products states that its standards for organic livestock are:
“Producers must meet animal health and welfare standards, may not use antibiotics or growth hormones, must use 100% organic feed, and must provide animals with access to the outdoors.”
As is the case with many “free range” claims, the “access to the outdoors” requirement is often problematic because in order to use the label a company only has to provide the birds with some access to an outdoor area, according to an article in the Consumerist .
There are currently no standards for the size of that exterior space or for the size of the door leading from the cage to the outdoors.
Regardless of that fact, the party that filed the complaint against Kroger does not believe grocer has met its own self-imposed standards. They believe the chickens were raised in the same close confines that are standard for most chickens from large poultry farms.
"In fact, Simple Truth chickens are treated no differently than other mass-produced chickens on the market," according to the lawsuit.
One example those who filed the complaint used is the company that produces the food product, Perdue Farms.
The lawsuit says the company has often followed industry practices such as electrically stunning birds prior to slaughter.
Kroger officials were not available for further comment on Thursday.