The Hershey Company is beloved by many for its signature candies like chocolate bars and Kisses, but one of its products is leaving a bad taste in some customers' mouths.
In June, a class action suit was filed in New York by a group of people claiming that Reese's White Peanut Butter Cups are misleading to consumers since they don’t actually contain any cocoa butter, a key component of white chocolate, reports Legal Newsline.
According to the suit, which was filed on June 26 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Hershey's “has taken affirmative steps for consumers to mistakenly believe the products contain white chocolate and has intentionally failed to correct the misimpressions [sic]."
Though the packaging on Reese's white cups and other products does not specifically say "white chocolate," the group is alleging that the packaging is still confusing and too ambiguous for the average customer to understand.
"The absence of any modifying term before or after 'white' renders the products misleading because consumers are not able to differentiate between white chocolate and cheaper substitutes like compound or confectionary coating made from vegetable oils when the term 'white' is applied to a product traditionally associated with chocolate," the suit states, per Legal Newsline.
When reached via email, a spokesperson for The Hershey Company told TODAY, “The product is not called ‘white chocolate Reese's Cups’; it’s simply called Reese's White Peanut Butter Cups.” The spokesperson would not comment specifically on the pending litigation.
The company's website describes the product as a “twist on a classic: delicious white creme covering everyone's favorite peanut butter.” That creme coating is made with a mixture of vegetable oils including palm, shea, sunflower and safflower; milk, sugar and vanilla extract.
But is white chocolate even chocolate, anyway?
Not according to Cook’s Illustrated, which explains that, unlike its darker counterparts, white chocolate is made from cocoa butter.
“While it [white chocolate] contains the cocoa butter of true chocolate, it lacks cocoa solids, the element responsible for milk and dark chocolate’s characteristic brown color and nutty roasted flavor,” the publication states. “Other pale confections labeled simply ‘white’ chips or bars (these boast less than the 20 percent cocoa butter required to earn the designation ‘white chocolate') are just as common in the baking aisle of the supermarket."
Oils are a less expensive alternative to cocoa butter but, when treated properly, mimic the texture and taste of real white chocolate.
There's even a legal definition of white chocolate as the FDA states that white chocolate must contain “at least 20 percent cocoa butter, at least 14percent milk solids, at least 3.5 percent milkfat, and a maximum of 55 percent in sweeteners.”
The plaintiffs are seeking a trial by jury and coverage of any legal fees.