Hawaiian style or made in Hawaii: Class action lawsuit highlights product origin labeling laws

Hawaiian pizza, punch, and rolls are delicious. That is undisputed. However, a recent class action lawsuit denies whether King’s Hawaiian Rolls are appropriately named because they’re not made in Hawaii. This question can be solved by observing the federal and state law on product labeling.

King’s Hawaiian Rolls raise two main labeling law issues, one related to federal law and one related to state law: (1) Does the name of the product comply with the federal food labeling law? and (2) the marking generally complies with Hawaiian law governing the use of “Made in Hawaii” and other similar origin marking terms.

Federal regulations

Let us first turn to federal law. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for ensuring that most foods sold in the United States are properly labeled. This applies to both domestically produced food and food from abroad. The Federal Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics Act and the food-related provisions of the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act are the federal food laws that are under the jurisdiction of the FDA.

According to federal law, the main display (i.e. the front label) of packaged foods must contain an identity statement or the product name (i.e. cookies). The declaration of identity is the common or customary name of the food. If a common or common name does not exist and there is no specifically defined standard of identity for that food, the identity statement can either be: (1) a reasonably descriptive term if the type of food is obvious, or (2) an imaginative name that is common used by the public for such food.[1]

Elsewhere on the packaged foodstuffs, federal law prescribes the name and place of business of the manufacturer, packer or distributor of the product.[2] In addition, packaged food labels must not mislabel their packaged food with a representation that expresses or implies a wrong geographical origin of the food.[3]

Hawaii regulations

Now let’s look at the applicable Hawaiian law. The Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) manages Made in Hawaii with the Aloha Branding Program (MIHA). The MIHA Trademark Program was established to protect the integrity and value of authentic Hawaiian branded products and to identify products made in Hawaii from products made elsewhere that are still labeled “Made in Hawaii.” This means that Hawaiian state law prohibits manufacturers and sellers from saying that a product is made in Hawaii when it is not. To be “Made in Hawaii” under state law, a product must be made in Hawaii and have at least 51 percent of its wholesale value added by state manufacturing or processing.

King’s Hawaiian Buns

To understand the above provisions, let us consider the images of King’s Hawaiian Rolls included in Plaintiff’s Complaint. The plaintiff’s main problem with packaging is the language that pays homage to the company’s origins: “Est. 1950 Hilo, Hawaii. “The flaw with Plaintiff’s argument is that the packaging clearly reads,” Made by King’s Hawaiian Baker West, Inc. … located in Toorance, CA. “In addition, Plaintiff’s complaint includes images of Hawaiian roll packaging from nine other companies The inclusion of such images provides fuel for a strong defensive argument that “Hawaiian Rolls” is indeed an imaginative name widely used by the public for such foods and, as such, a reasonable consumer would not automatically consider the Hawaiian-style food product One could even express the plaintiff’s argument in the nonsensical: Would the regulations require that Texas toast comes only from Texas, French fries only, Italian bread only from Italy or moon pies only from the moon?

With the King’s Hawaiian case pending, we can also look at similar federal cases where the standard of federal “Fair Consumer” law has been applied to understand the likely outcome for Hawaii-labeled products. The term “Hawaiian” was not viewed as a general claim to superiority or a general boast or expression of opinion. “[5] Maeda v Kennedy Endeavor, Inc. (with a “reasonable consumer” one would not be misled into believing that the Hawaiian snacks are from Hawaii, given that only the word “Hawaiian” plus Hawaiian images in the snack packaging. “) Applies the Made in Hawaii law is not for King’s Hawaiian. First, King’s Hawaiian does not use the Made in Hawaii symbol. Second, federal courts ruled that a consumer under Hawaiian law has no private cause of action under HRS § 486-119.[6]

Understanding the litigation precedent and the full set of circumstances surrounding your brand’s packaging is important in warding off class action liability.

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