Supervalu/Cub Foods Facing Meat Mislabeling Lawsuit

MINNEAPOLIS - Two consumers filed a class action lawsuit against Supervalu Inc. based here, alleging that the company's Cub Foods division systematically mislabeled regular USDA choice beef, and sold it at a higher price for the past five years.

The lawsuit -- filed in Anoka County by the Vadnais Heights, Minn.-based Consumer Justice Center on behalf of plaintiffs Michael Olson and John Wylde -- alleged Supervalu's Cub Food Stores routinely mislabeled choice beef as genuine "Black Angus," a breed-specific, premium priced type of beef that is largely regarded as being superior to regular cuts of beef.

The suit alleged that Cub Foods engaged in a violation of Minnesota's uniform deceptive trade practices and unlawful trade practices laws; consumer fraud and false advertising statutes and fraud by omission.

The lawsuit received considerable media coverage in the local market, where all major networks extensively covered the story, according to the plaintiffs' attorney, who said two meat cutters who worked at several Cub Foods locations claim the mislabeling practice was rampant and dated back at least five years.

"It is our firm belief, based on confidences assured to us by our butcher sources, that Cub would receive choice beef in boxes and then re-label it as Rancher's Preferred Black Angus beef," attorney Thomas J. Lyons, Jr. of the Consumer Justice Center told Progressive Grocer.

"It's an easy enough matter to get to the heart of," said Lyons, noting the audit trails in place for record-keeping and verification in accord with the USDA's provisions for recognizing and providing specification and classification for Black Angus through a variety of bulletins, schedules and other mechanisms.

The Cub Foods meat-cutters who brought the alleged practice to light were not identified and were not named in the complaint.

Although Supervalu did not respond to requests by Progressive Grocer for further information, Cub issued a statement saying, "We absolutely stand behind the integrity of our products. Fundamental to the success of our business is providing customers with the quality they expect. If, at any time, that standard is not met, it will be corrected immediately to ensure our responsibility to our customers is intact."

Prior to the filing of complaint, former employees of Cub Foods brought the practice of improperly labeling and selling non-Black Angus Beef as genuine Black Angus beef to the attention of Cub Food and Supervalu executives, according to the suit, which further contends that when the former employee's concerns were ignored and the practices continued they contacted The Consumer Justice Center.

The plaintiffs alleged this mislabeling practice by Cub Foods has gone on for several years. Lyons said class action status is being sought because there are so many potential plaintiffs that allowing each to bring separate actions would clog the court system for years. The suit further alleged that "thousands of tons of mislabeled beef has been sold and that Black Angus beef often commands a price of about $1 per pound more than regular USDA Choice beef."

Supervalu, parent company of Jewel-Osco, Acme Markets, Shaw's and Save-A-Lot, among others, ranks third among the nation's biggest supermarket chains after Kroger Co. and Safeway Inc. In 1980, the company purchased Cub Foods, which currently operates 54 stores in the Twin Cities market.
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