Kroger's calorie counting has prompted prosecutors to file a lawsuit

Could that piece of Kroger brand carb-conscious bread really only contain 30 calories?

The answer, according to a new lawsuit filed by a pair of plaintiffs in California, is no.

In the civil suit against the supermarket chain, which owns about 300 Ralphs and Food 4 Less stores in the state, prosecutors from Santa Barbara and Ventura counties accused the company of false advertising and violating state fair competition laws.

“Consumers rely on nutritional information to make important decisions about their personal health,” said Ventura County Dist. Atty. Erik Nasarenko said in a statement. “For some consumers, these decisions are based on medical necessity.”

A Kroger representative did not respond to a request for comment.

The allegations focus on the Cincinnati company's line of Carbmaster breads. Prosecutors noted that the front of the package of the line's white bread contained a large, bright font warning customers that it contained “30 CALORIES PER SERVING.”

At one point, prosecutors say, Kroger changed the mandatory nutrition label on the back of the package to indicate that each slice actually contained 50 calories. Yet it left the 30 calorie claim on the front. In another case, hamburger buns were labeled with a note that read “GREAT TASTE. NO REGRETS,” stated 50 calories per serving on the front, but the back label stated that each sandwich contained 100 calories.

“It honestly doesn't surprise me,” says Susan B. Roberts, senior associate dean of basic research at Dartmouth College's medical school, who has been researching calorie counts for years.

Part of the complication, she said, is that the Food and Drug Administration allows manufacturers to choose from different methods for calculating calorie counts.

“It's almost impossible to actually monitor all of these things,” Roberts said. “We are largely dependent on the honesty of the food companies.”

Prosecutors say they contacted Kroger in 2022 about the bread packaging. But as of Monday morning, Ralph's website showed a bread wheat bread with 30 calories per serving on the front, while the nutrition label stated that each slice contained 50 calories.

“This bread is an excellent choice for those of us who have type 1 diabetes,” one consumer wrote in a review.

Kroger isn't the first to be accused of dishonesty about calorie counts.

Several years ago there was a group of consumers in LA County sued Chipotle about a 300-calorie burrito claim that seemed too good to be true. And according to a report from Perkins Coiea law firm that pursues class action cases, such cases are becoming increasingly common.

In 2020, more than 100 lawsuits were filed for false labeling – a category that the company said included allegations of under- or over-reporting of nutrient levels, misreporting of portions per package, and claims that food was prepared in a specific way, such as smoked.

Roberts, a calorie counting researcher, said her interest in the subject started several years ago when she wanted to lose a few pounds.

After stocking up on frozen meals from the supermarket, she couldn't understand why she still wasn't losing weight, even though she was staying within the calorie limits that she knew made sense as a nutrition scientist.

“Basically, it's very difficult to follow a diet that uses calories,” she says. “But millions of people do rely on calories, so I would like them to be accurate.”

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