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2 Californians bought Barilla pasta thinking it was made in Italy. Now they're suing

The Barilla pasta company is being sued in a California court for allegedly misleading U.S. consumers with false advertising that its U.S.-sold pastas are made in Italy.
Edoardo Fornaciari
Getty Images for Barilla
The Barilla pasta company is being sued in a California court for allegedly misleading U.S. consumers with false advertising that its U.S.-sold pastas are made in Italy.

What would it be like to live in a world where everything that was printed in an ad or said in a commercial were true, without you having to read the fine print?

It seems that's the world that Matthew Sinatro and Jessica Prost are seeking to build — at least when it comes to spaghetti.

The two are behind a class action lawsuit against the pasta-making company Barilla, which they say is deliberately deceiving shoppers by using the slogan "Italy's #1 Brand of Pasta" on its packaging.

Despite the green, white and red stylized Italian flags displayed on the blue boxes of angel hair, fusilli and bowtie pastas, a complaint filed in Northern California notes that the majority of the company's products sold in the U.S. are produced in Iowa and New York and are not made with ingredients sourced from Italy.

Do people pay more for the idea of Italian-made products? Plaintiffs say certo

Sinatro and Prost argue in their complaint that they were duped by the company's alleged "false advertising" and deceptive marketing practices and that they would not have spent a combined total of $6 on Barilla products had they known the pastas they were taking home were made in the United States. Instead, they would have opted for cheaper alternatives.

"[C]onsumers willingly pay more for Italian sounding and/or looking products," and Barilla leveraged the implied connection to Italy "[i]n an effort to increase profits and to obtain an unfair competitive advantage," the complaint states.

Barilla did not respond to NPR's requests for comment, but the company does address the issue on its website.

Only two of Barilla's U.S.-sold pastas are from Italy

"Barilla Pasta that is sold in the United States is made in our plants in Ames, IA and Avon, NY, with a few exceptions. Barilla Tortellini and Barilla Oven Ready Lasagne are made in Italy," the website states.

The site also notes that the recipes used in the U.S. are the same as those used in Parma, Italy, and that the pastas are made by the same types of machines. The company's 2021 financial report states that the U.S. "continues to represent the most important market in the [Americas] region."

Court documents show that Barilla filed to get the case dismissed, arguing that Sinatro and Prost couldn't prove that they suffered financial harm. Sinatro, who lives in San Francisco, purchased one box of angel hair pasta for about $2, while Prost bought two boxes of spaghetti for approximately $2 each at a grocery store in Los Angeles, according to the complaint.

The company moved to dismiss the case in August, but a judge rejectedthe request last week.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.