Lawsuit Claims Customers Misled to Believe All Barilla Pasta Is Made in Italy

The brand's packaging and website both disclose that many of its products are made in the U.S.A.

A box of Barilla pasta
Photo: Smith Collection/Gado / Contributor/Getty Images

Everyone knows Barilla pasta's blue box. The company refers to its "Classic Blue Box" on its website, and it has even become such a pasta aisle icon that one designer even based a limited-edition handbag on it. But some of the design elements on that box have gotten Barilla into a bit of a legal jam and, earlier this week, a federal judge in California ruled that a class-action lawsuit against the company could move forward.

Two plaintiffs, Matthew Sinatro and Jessica Prost, took legal action against Barilla after buying $4 and $2 worth of Barilla pasta, respectively. They looked at the little Italian flag on the box and the phrase "Italy's #1 Brand of Pasta" at the bottom and interpreted that to mean that Barilla pasta was made in Italy.

Although Barilla is headquartered in Parma, Italy, it also has a U.S. office in Illinois and the majority of its pastas that are sold in the U.S. are produced at its facilities in Iowa and New York.

According to its website, the two exceptions are its tortellini and Oven-Ready Lasagna, which are both made in Italy. "[T]he machines used in our Ames and Avon plants are the same as used in our plant in Parma, Italy," the site explains. "The recipe and the wheat blend are the same as that used in Parma, Italy. Barilla purchases its wheat from around the world, ending up with the best wheat available."

But those two plaintiffs weren't looking at Barilla's website when they bought those three boxes of pasta. Instead, they looked at the box, and allegedly felt misled by those tiny flags. In their legal filing, they insist that they "would not have purchased the Product, or would not have overpaid a premium for the Product's purported Italian origin, had [they] known that the Challenged Representation was false."

In their complaint the two plaintiffs allege that Barilla has "falsely and misleadingly" labeled itself as an Italian product "[i]n an effort to increase profits and to obtain an unfair competitive advantage." (In a similar vein, we recently reported on another lawsuit which accused Texas Pete hot sauce of misleading customers to believe it was made in Texas.)

Barilla attempted to get the lawsuit dismissed by suggesting that "no reasonable customer could be deceived" because all of its U.S. packaging is marked "Made in the USA" and includes the address of Barilla's Illinois headquarters.

But Judge Donna M. Ryu "partially denied" Barilla's motion to dismiss and ruled that the case could move forward. Courthouse News reports that the two plaintiffs were denied injunctive relief because they "know where the products are manufactured" now, and can't be financially harmed by purchasing another $2 box of Iowa-made pasta.

The plaintiffs want Barilla to stop using the Italian flag or other Italy-related claims on their boxes and they are also seeking financial compensation. Barilla is permitted to keep using its existing pasta box for now.

"The most recent decision in the ongoing legal matter simply reflects the Court's early conclusion that the lawsuit can proceed," a Barilla spokesperson told Good Morning America. "Barilla remains committed to vigorously defend against these unfounded claims, as the wording on the box clearly states: 'Made in the U.S.A. with U.S.A. and imported ingredients.' We're very proud of the brand's Italian heritage, the company's Italian know-how, and the quality of our pasta in the U.S. and globally."

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