The maker of Nutella is setting aside $3.05 million to resolve a sticky class action lawsuit initiated by a young California mother who disputed the hazelnut breakfast spread's wholesome image.
Notices of class action settlements declared that Ferrero USA, Inc. -- a subsidiary of Italian confectioner Ferrero Group -- would pay $4 for every jar of Nutella bought in California since August 2009, or bought anywhere else in the United States since January 2008.
In addition, Ferrero USA agreed to "modify certain marketing statements about Nutella" and to give more prominence to nutritional information on Nutella labels, said the notices posted on nutellaclassactionsettlement.com.
Consumers have until July 5 to make their claims, to a maximum of $20 per claimant. That's four days before US District Court judges in California and New Jersey are scheduled to give final approval to the settlements.
"Ferrero USA continues to stand by its product and its commitment to quality and customer satisfaction," a Ferrero spokesperson told AFP in a statement Friday.
"We believe that it is in the best interest of the company to resolve these matters, and have reached an agreement with the parties involved."
Athena Hohenberg, the mother of a preschooler in San Diego, California, launched the class action lawsuit early last year, alleging that Ferrero has pitched Nutella as something "healthier than it actually is."
She was "shocked to learn that Nutella was in fact, not 'healthy, nutritious' food, but instead was the next best thing to a candy bar, and that Nutella contains dangerous level of saturated fat," her lawsuit said.
Ferrero -- which markets Nutella worldwide as a tasty breakfast spread, and lists sugar, palm oil, hazelnuts, cocoa and skim milk as its main ingredients -- denied the allegations.
Nutella's US website (www.nutellausa.com) recommends the chocolatey dark spread, with 200 calories per serving, as a way "to turn a balanced breakfast into a tasty one" when combined with whole grain bread or a bagel.
Hohenberg, a rental property manager, declined requests for comment. Lawyers on both sides of the case were also unavailable.
Consumers can file claims for Nutella purchased anywhere in the United States from January 1, 2008 to February 3 this year, with the exception of California, where the time frame is August 1, 2009 through January 23 this year.
It was unclear why there were separate settlements for California and the other 49 states. In the Washington capital area, a 13-ounce (368-gram) jar of Nutella typically retails for $3.99.
In financial terms, settling the Nutella lawsuit was peanuts for Ferrero. On its website, it said it made pre-tax earnings of 856 million euros ($1.13 billion) on sales of 7.2 billion euros ($9.5 billion) in its most recent accounting year.
Sold in more than 100 countries, Nutella was invented in 1944 by Pietro Ferrero in a pastry shop in Alba, northern Italy. He died in 1949, but the company, which also makes Ferrero Rocher chocolates and Tic Tac candies, stayed in family hands.
Hohenberg's lawsuit drew scorn from some quarters when it was filed, including the LA Weekly newspaper which advised "litigious California mothers" to act responsibly and read food labels more closely.
"Try making your own snacks for your kids," it said. "If you normally feed them good food, a jar of Nutella now and then isn't going to kill anyone. And it's damn good on homemade buckwheat crepes."