Claim: this chocolate was made here recently, not in Belgium 93 years ago

The Godiva chocolate company puts “Belgium 1926” on many of its labels and promotional materials, referring to its origins nearly a century ago in Brussels. “Kevin Fahey, of Virginia, argued in a lawsuit filed in D.C. this week that Godiva commits ‘massive fraud’ by suggesting on product labeling and their website that their products are Belgian…. ‘It is important to emphasize that “Belgium 1926” signifies the place and year of the company’s founding. It does not imply that a product purchased today was made in Belgium nearly one hundred years ago,’ the company said in a statement.” A similar lawsuit was dismissed earlier in California. [Andrea Swalec, NBC Washington; Scott MacFarlane]

14 Comments

  • And it is not delivered by a nude woman on horseback either.

  • I’m actually partial to Mr. Fahey on this one. If my bourbon says Kentucky 2010 it damn well implies it was batched in Kentucky in 2010. If my wine says Bordeaux 1998 it better not be Cleveland 2018. Unless Godiva clearly and prominently says “founded in” next to those words I’m cool with the fraud claim because there is a reasonable assumption when dealing with food dates/places listed are date and origin when product was created.

    • The “Godiva Belgium 1926” that appears on the packaging is the companies registered trademark.

      In that the product will have the actual batch and date it was produced stamped on it, there is no confusion and no fraud.

    • Wine and whiskey are products considered to have a vintage and terroir. It is conventional to specify the year and place of production of these products. Chocolate, like most other products, is not considered to have a vintage and terroir and is not conventionally labelled with the year and place of production. While a purchaser may reasonably assume a year and place on wine or whiskey to be those of production, the same assumption is not reasonable in the case of chocolate. The fraud claim is therefore without foundation.

    • “…because there is a reasonable assumption when dealing with food dates/places listed are date and origin when product was created…”

      Context matters in your examples. If you think that you would purchase or consume 90 year old perishable goods, I’ve got some tupperware containers of mystery meat in the back of fridge which you might like to sample.

    • I believe it is Richard Epstein who observed that common law judges often filled in the flexible concepts of contract law with reference to the particular customs of the trade in question. That might help explain why they would find year of manufacture a highly material term in disputes over the promotion of whiskey, vintage wine, or antique furniture, for which age is a trait often greatly desired by customers, but not in the promotion of a consumer perishable as here.

      • a/k/a “common sense”

      • See Judge Friendly’s opinion in “The Chicken case” (Frigaliment Importing Co. v. B.N.S. International Sales Corp., 190 F. Supp. 116 (S.D.N.Y. 1960)) for a good example of common law judges filling in the flexible concepts of contract law with reference to the particular customs of the trade in question.

  • @gitarcarver – fair point; I can’t say I’m too familiar with the product outside casually though everything I have ever seen was “Godiva” and not “Godiva Belgium 1926”. While sure you can claim “well it’s an additional trademark based on market expansion” I think we would all agree Jack Daniel’s trademarking “Jack Daniel’s Kentucky 2009(tm)” and then sell whiskey barreled last week would be deceptive and fraudulent (at least in common language).

    To the rest of the crowd, while sure context matters (and I liked Walter Olson’s answer which in all honesty probably hits closest to home), once again if my milk is labeled “Pick ‘N Save Wisconsin July 27th, 2019” I should be able to reasonably assume “Pick ‘N Save brand, packaged in Wisconsin on July 27th, 2019” and then figure out a shelf life on based on that, not run around looking for some small print that says “(tm), actually packaged on July 29th, 2020 in California”. I can honestly say I have no idea the reasonable shelf life on chocolate. Granted a ninety year old perishable good seems “odd” but wine? cognac? Twinkies? I mean you can keep rice for thirty+ years, honey 100+ years, salt/sugar forever?, etc. If you want to argue ninety year old fresh milk or fresh tomatoes sure but processed foods such as chocolate, I really have no idea. And while sure we could litigate each and every food item in existence a more reasonable rule would simply be “Don’t include dates and physical places prominently on food products unless they are accurate or clear as unrelated to the quality of the product”. I think everybody here is being disingenuous if they don’t think Godiva is attempting to imply their chocolate is from Belgium and aged (hence higher quality in both regards) even if neither is true even though yes I agree ninety years a bit much on the sniff test but then again, ditto hundred year old honey yet hundred year old honey is perfectly safe and I can imagine somebody selling “Honey, 1919” and making some claim about “aged to perfection”.

    • Peter,

      I did not claim “well it’s an additional trademark based on market expansion.” I would appreciate you not putting words into my keyboard.

      The fact of the matter is that “Belgium 1926” is accurate. That is when and where Godiva was founded and still produces chocolate today.

      Your point about Jack Daniels is not applicable. Jack Daniels is an aged product and the brewing / length of aging matters. It affects the value and taste of the product. Do you have any proof that the date of production affects the value or taste of chocolate? Also, have you ever seen a label with honey “aged to perfection?” I suspect that you have not.

      The fact of the matter is that a Godiva chocolate bar is made by a company established in Belgium in 1926 and manufactured using the same quality cacao beans and using the same recipes and processes.

      There is no fraud as Godiva delivers exactly what they are promising – a hunk of chocolate made by a company that is almost a century old using the same standards as their products made elsewhere.

      The real “crime” here, is how the plaintiff thinks that a $15 candy bar is somehow worth $74,000 even if there was fraud.

      You say “Don’t include dates and physical places prominently on food products unless they are accurate or clear as unrelated to the quality of the product”

      That’s exactly what Godiva is doing.

  • (Disclosure: I’m not a lawyer…just in case you couldn’t tell that from the amazing legal analysis below…)

    Standing is important here. Was the plaintiff damaged? Were the members of the (presumed) class action damaged? I think the fact that he did not eat 90-year old chocolate probably spared him medical injury.

    Another way to deal with this would be to deny class action status. Let him sue for the $5 he paid for the chocolate as an individual in small claims court.

  • The date is one thing. But Belgian-made chocolate is more desirable than chocolate made in Reading, Pennsylvania (the location of a US Godiva plant), so prominently saying “Belgium” seems misleading, at minimum.

  • This sounds like the old “Haagen Dazs” ice cream kerfuffle…does having a map of Denmark on the ice cream container lid fraudulently imply that the product was imported from Denmark, not Brooklyn?

  • I agree with Parkhorse that the 1926 and the Belgium have different significances, at least treated separately.

    Bill Poser, chocolate doesn’t have vintage but it does have terroir. Not to the degree wine does, more like coffee: Maxwell House and Hershey’s don’t talk about where their beans come from, but the 100% Kona brands and the single plantation chocolate bars do.

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