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USA Today reports that a federal lawsuit has been filed against importer Cento Fine Foods, charging the company with selling pomodoro tomatoes in cans that label - and price them - as more expensive San Marzano tomatoes.

According to the story, “The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco by three California consumers, contends ‘authentic’ San Marzano tomatoes can only come from an area in southern Italy, Agro Sarnese Nocerino, with ‘rich volcanic soil and (a) warm, sunny and coastal climate.’ It also asserts the premium tomatoes must be certified by a ‘consortium’ – the Cosorzio di Tutela del Pomodora San Marzano DOP.”

USA Today writes that the suit “alleges some of Cento's tomatoes come from the adjacent Campania region, and that the firm's San Marzano products are certified by a third-party organization other than the consortium. The class-action suit seeks damages on behalf of two proposed groups of Cento customers, in California and nationwide. It asserts the ‘matter in controversy’ has a value of more than $5 million.”

Cento says that the claims are "completely unfounded,” adding that “we take pride in the fact that our labels accurately describe the products inside.” Cento also says that it "exceeds industry standards in production and has always operated with the highest integrity.”
KC's View:
Where this gets tricky is the fact that Cento actually has a program that allows consumers to use a code number on their cans to figure out what field those specific tomatoes have been grown in, which you’d think would be a high enough level of transparency to reassure most people. But no, the plaintiffs say that the fields being identified may not be in the right area, and that in some cases seeds from cheaper tomatoes are being plated in fields that have allowed them to claim that they are the San Marzano variety.

In the words of my forebears: Oy.

You’d also think that this should be relatively easy to resolve - I’d guess that the chemical makeup of a San Marzano tomato would be distinctive from that of a pomodoro tomato, and that a decent chemist ought to be able to figure this out.

I’m rooting for the folks at Cento - because I want a company that clearly has invested in transparency initiatives to have been honest and accurate. I hope that this has been the case, and I hope there is a quick resolution.