MANHATTAN (CN) - Olive oil, whether refined or virgin, can qualify as "100% Pure," as long as it does not include the industrially processed combination of pits, skins or pulp known as Pomace, a federal judge ruled.
In February, the North American Olive Oil Association sued the Hauppage, N.Y.-based importer Kangadis Food Inc, which operates under the name The Gourmet Factory, for advertising its popular Capatriti product as "100% Pure Olive Oil."
The association called the label misleading because the product contained Pomace and was refined, not virgin oil.
To ward off litigation, Kangadis consented to an injunction forcing them to use only refined olive oil in any tin marked "100% Pure," starting on March 1 this year. It also agreed to clarify that products made before this date contain Pomace, though the products are now Pomace-free.
By using only refined oils, Kangadis products still violated New York State and federal labeling standards, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff found.
New York labeling standards, for example, define olive oil as "a blend of refined olive oil and virgin olive oils," according to the ruling. It meanwhile defines refined olive oil as "the olive oil obtained from virgin olive oils by [certain] refining methods," the ruling states (brackets in original).
Federal and industry standards draw similar lines, Rakoff said, noting that the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires "U.S. Olive Oil' to contain some virgin olive oil.
"If virgin olive oil undergoes refining to remove impurities, then it is no longer called 'virgin,' but remains 'olive oil,'" Rakoff wrote.
Kangadis meanwhile touted its "100% Pure Olive Oil" on its website as a "wonderful blend of virgin and refined oil made from hand picked olives," the ruling states.
"It is beyond reasonable dispute that by labeling 100% refined olive oil as '100% Pure Olive Oil,' Kangadis is violating these various standards," the 19-page opinion states.
Rakoff nevertheless concluded that those standards are "either legally nonbinding or unenforceable through a private right of action."
The group failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits because it "presents no extrinsic evidence that the perceptions of ordinary consumers align with these various labeling standards such that they would understand a product labeled '100% Pure Olive Oil' to contain a blend of refined and virgin olive oil," according to the ruling.
"Indeed, the court finds it entirely plausible that a reasonable ordinary consumer would interpret the phrase '100% Pure Olive Oil' to refer simply to a product that contains olive oil - that is, oil derived from the flesh of the fruit of the olive tree - and nothing but olive oil," Rakoff wrote. "The consumer could very well view the phrase as simply remaining silent as to whether that olive oil is virgin or refined."
Over the past six years, Capatriti olive oil has cornered 15 percent of the market, and Kangadis sells about "a million tins of '100% Pure Olive Oil' per year," the opinion states.
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