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Wal-Mart sued over Parmesan with wood pulp filler

Jef Feeley
Bloomberg News

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. was accused in a lawsuit of defrauding customers by selling Parmesan cheese touted as pure that contained wood pulp as filler.

The world’s largest retailer stocked its New York stores’ shelves with containers labeled “100% Grated Parmesan Cheese,” but tests showed Wal-Mart’s Great Value-brand cheese contained as much as 10 percent of cellulose, a wood-based anti-clumping agent, according to a complaint Tuesday in Manhattan federal court.

Customer Marc Moschetta wouldn’t have bought the cheese if he’d been aware that “the 100% representation was false and mischaracterized the amount and percentage of Parmesan cheese in the container,” according to the complaint.

John Forrest Ales, a Wal-Mart spokesman, didn’t immediately respond after regular business hours to a call seeking comment on the lawsuit.

The suit follows a Bloomberg News investigation that asked an independent laboratory to test store-bought Parmesan cheese for wood-pulp content.

The tests found Essential Everyday 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese, from Jewel-Osco, contained 8.8 percent cellulose, while Wal-Mart’s brand registered 7.8 percent. Whole Foods 365 brand didn’t list cellulose as an ingredient on the label, but still tested at 0.3 percent. Kraft Heinz Co.’s Parmesan had 3.8 percent of the filler.

Moschetta is seeking class-action status for the fraud claims, which would allow shoppers across the country to band together against Wal-Mart.

A California consumer filed a similar case against Kraft last week in San Francisco federal court. Samantha Lewin alleged that the company’s misrepresentations led shoppers to pay a premium for the millions of containers sold.

The New York case is Moschetta v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 16-cv-01377, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).