Woman sues Tomato Company, saying those weren’t San Marzanos on the can


San Marzano tomatoes are prized by chefs around the world for their intense flavor and are routinely recommended by recipers, but one woman in California said her effort to make a sauce with these rich, balanced tomatoes was thwarted by a misleading label. .

Simpson Imports, a Pennsylvania tomato seller, has for years sold Roma tomatoes in cans and boxes, but California woman Andrea Valiente said in a lawsuit filed last year that the company had used “very deceptive tomato packaging to deceive consumers into believing they are purchasing authentic San Marzano tomatoes, at San Marzano prices.

Simpson Imports tried to dismiss the lawsuit, but Araceli Martínez-Olguín, judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, said in an order Tuesday that some of Valiente’s claims could move forward.

Simpson Imports said in an emailed statement that it “strongly disputes that reasonable consumers may have been misled” by the label, since “San Marzano” does not appear on it.

The company said “San Marzano” had not been used on product labels for nearly a decade, not since “the products contained a different blend.”

Simpson Imports sells its canned and boxed tomatoes, as well as tomato sauces and tomato paste, under its “San Merican Tomatoes” brand, which it said was made with a “proprietary blend of Roma tomatoes.” The company’s products are often recommended by food experts, including New York Times writers.

At a hearing in January, Simpson Imports said it had sold canned tomatoes labeled “San Marzano” nine years ago, according to the judge’s order.

Ms. Valiente said in her complaint that the old product and the current product had “almost identical” packaging.

Both the old and current packaging had colored ribbons on the top and bottom to describe whether the tomatoes were whole, crushed, diced or pureed. Both cans were also decorated with illustrations of tomatoes reminiscent of the oblong shapes of San Marzanos. Simpson Imports said in a statement that the tomato illustration was “a hand drawing of a Roma tomato that the company’s founder made when he was a child.”

On cans used today, the letters “SMT” appear above illustrations of tomatoes. The oldest product said “San Marzano” on the illustrated tomatoes. In the current can design, words are also included in each letter to spell “San” in the “S,” “erican” in the “M,” and “omato” in the “T.”

“The result is letters so comically tiny that it is almost impossible to see them with the naked eye,” Valiente said in the complaint.

Judge Martínez-Olguín said in her order, which was reported by Courthouse News Service, that it was “plausible” that other consumers saw the cans and “reasonably believed that Simpson tomatoes are San Marzano tomatoes.”

Simpson Imports tomatoes are priced higher than many other brands of canned tomatoes, which “contributes to the plausibility of the consumer’s expectation that Simpson tomatoes are San Marzano tomatoes,” the judge wrote.

Labeling of San Marzano tomatoes in the United States has been flexible. In the European Union, only tomatoes that are grown in a specific region of Italy and that meet other requirements receive the “protected designation of origin,” or PDO, to prove that they are San Marzanos. In the United States, some tomato sellers claim to grow varieties of San Marzanos and may sell those tomatoes as “San Marzano style” or use “San Marzano” without official European certification.

Ms. Valiente said in her lawsuit that the labeling used on Simpson Imports tomato cans suggested they could be DOP tomatoes or “San Marzano-style” tomatoes, although in reality “it sells substandard Roma tomatoes.” She has 21 days to file an amended complaint.

In 2019, three other California home cooks filed a lawsuit against a New Jersey-based tomato seller, Cento Fine Foods, alleging that it had falsely labeled its tomatoes as San Marzanos. Cento said in a statement at the time that the allegations were “completely baseless” and the plaintiffs dropped the lawsuit in 2021.

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