'Truffle Oil' Without the Truffle
In Italy, during truffle season, the slightly garlicky, musky aroma wafts through the air and thin slivers of the pungent fungus grace plates of pasta or risotto at every street side trattoria. To me, its heavenly. Back home, the only way to get anything close to this flavor is drizzling truffle oil on dishes after cooking. But it isn’t the same, and I am not the only one who has noticed.
This May, four class action suits were filed against Trader Joe’s, Urbani Truffles, Sabatino and Monini for “false, misleading and deceptive misbranding of its truffle oil products.” While the label says, “Truffle Oil,” the ingredients claim aroma, flavor, or essence is added. Apparently, “aroma” is a chemical—2,4 dithiapentane—more affectionately referred to as “big methane.” Truffle fries anyone?
To date, none of the companies have commented, except through their lawyers. In August, the case against Monini was dismissed as the court decided that “a product describes itself as substance-flavored despite not containing the actual substance, and the ingredient list accurately reflects that fact, as a matter of law the product would not confuse a reasonable consumer.” I understand a chartreuse colored, apple flavored Jolly Rancher does not have any apple in it, but I think that a product labeled as something specific—like truffle oil—should contain the substance. Perhaps I am not a reasonable consumer.
What does this have to do with international marketing? It doesn't matter if its an Italian fashion house, like Fendi, dealing with counterfeit goods or a french farmer with a truffle dog facing sinking prices. When companies participate in fraudulent activities, it hurts the producers, (or in this case, the truffle hunters) of the real items and it hurts consumers.