Greek yogurt might be New York's new-ish agricultural darling, but it's not quite Hellenic or healthy enough for some people. Two New York men are suing Greek yogurt manufacturers Chobani and Fage, claiming both companies use "deceptive packaging and marketing" to trick consumers into believing they're getting a certified sugar-free fermented milk product straight from the Aegean Sea.
Westchester resident Barry Stoltz and Allan Chang of Queens filed separate suits against both companies in Brooklyn federal court this week, alleging that labeling on some of their yogurts—specifically on the "0%" yogurts, which indicate non-fat milk—erroneously suggested the products were low-sugar or sugar-free. "Defendants intend to create consumer confusion by causing purchaser to impute any meaning to the 0% that consumers wish, such as that the Products lack sugar, carbohydrates, calories, or any other content which a consumer may believe is unhealthy,” the suit states, noting that sugar-free products like Coke Zero and Pepsi Max use the "0" label as well.
The suit also claims that, like a Nestle Fudge ice cream bar, Chobani and Fage yogurt contains 16 grams of sugar—according to Chobani's website, flavored yogurts like Honey, Blackberry and Blended Cherry do contain 13 to 16 grams of sugar per serving, though a serving of non-fat plain yogurt contains only 4 grams of sugar. The suit against Chobani also takes issue with the fact that the company lists "evaporated cane juice" as an ingredient, which is really just a form of sugar, though Chobani notes a similar suit filed in California was dismissed earlier this year.
Beyond health concerns, though, Stoltz and Chang's suit, which seeks unspecified damages against Chobani, seems particularly concerned with the fact that Chobani is not made in Greece. As per the complaint, "None of the Products sold in the U.S. are made in Greece or made by Greek nationals even though Defendants market themselves as 'America’s Top Greek Yogurt.'" The suit also points out that "Chobani" is a Turkish word for shepherd (Hamdi Ulukaya, Chobani's founder and CEO, is Turkish.)
Chobani, which is based in upstate New York, tells us the company is committed to using healthy ingredients in its products. According to a statement:
Our fans — mothers, fathers, kids, nutritionists - understand that equating Chobani to an ice cream bar is like comparing apples and watermelons. Our yogurt is packed with protein (using three cups of fresh milk to make every cup of Chobani), our fruit is real fruit and we have always been committed to making delicious food using only natural ingredients. We’re proud that the majority of our products contain less sugar than competing brands (an average of 20% less) and that our Chobani Kids Tubes contain approximately 30% less sugar than the leading kids yogurt products.
They also note that most consumers are aware the yogurt's not literally imported from Greece. "Much like English muffins and French fries, our fans understand Greek yogurt to be a product description about how we authentically make our yogurt and not about where we make our yogurt in upstate New York and Idaho," they told us in a statement. Which, considering how much New York's hyped Chobani—the company has its own fancy SoHo flagship store, yogurt got elected the state's official snack, and Senator Chuck Schumer almost went to war with Russia when a shipment of Chobani got stopped by officials on its way to Sochi during the Olympics—seems pretty clear.
Fage did not respond to requests for comment.