Despite protestations from the company, a federal judge has decided to move forward on a lawsuit against McCormick & Co., the popular spice maker. The lawsuit has to do with the size of McCormick’s ground pepper tins. A smaller player in the spice industry, Watkins Inc., filed a lawsuit against McCormick last year, claiming that the latter had reduced the amount of pepper in its tins by 25% while still using the same size tin. The old McCormick tins contained about 8 ounces of ground pepper. After the switch, the tins now contain about 6 ounces of ground pepper. Despite this reduction in quantity the size of the tin has in fact remained the same. Watkins claims that this means that McCormick is using a visual trick to make it seem like they are selling more pepper per tin than they really are.
Watkins and McCormick sell the same product, but their marketing techniques are different. McCormick has non see-through containers that obscure the amount of product that they contain. Watkins has a smaller-sized container even though they contain the same amount as McCormick’s. That’s why Watkins is suing McCormick. They claim that McCormick is trying to deceive customers and get a leg up on their competition without actually improving their product. It is true that the McCormick tins state how much pepper they contain, but the tiny “6 oz.” marker is in small font that would be difficult to discern at first glance. The industry term for this is “slack-filling,” which essentially means underfilling. Watkins argues that this practice is so deceptive as to constitute a breach of consumer protection laws.
Watkins says that McCormick’s deceptive marketing practices have hurt their sales. When customers compare the two containers of pepper, they will naturally assume that they are getting more black pepper for a better price with McCormick’s. In reality, while the tins are not the same size, they do in fact contain the same amount of black pepper. McCormick has defended itself by arguing that since their pepper tins do in fact have the amount they contain written on them this means that they cannot be held liable for what someone else considers to be deceptive marketing. A lot of people aren’t buying this, however. In addition to the Watkins lawsuit, there is also a class-action lawsuit being filed against McCormick’s by angry customers who purchased their new tins of pepper. The filers claim that they have been ripped off by McCormick’s. Both cases are currently matriculating through the federal court system. This whole episode illustrates the importance of trustworthiness on the part of corporations. Businesses that are able to build a strong brand of trust and good community relations tend to be more successful. Stunts like the one McCormick’s pulled damage reputations and show that, for consumers, it’s difficult to trust the products that are being sold. So, before you head out to the grocery store next time, make sure to remember the difference between McCormick’s two tins of pepper.