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Better Give Butter — Not Margarine

— April 10, 2017

Jan Polanik, a customer at Dunkin Donuts, who thinks butter is better, filed a lawsuit against the company for serving a butter substitute.

People expect to get what they pay for.  If one orders a hamburger, he expects to get a hamburger.  It should be no different for the condiments requested, especially when one is deemed better than another, at least according to Jan Polanik, a customer at Dunkin Donuts, who has filed a class action lawsuit against the company’s 23 franchises in Massachusetts.  Polanik was horrified after realizing he had been receiving a butter substitute every time he paid 25 cents for real butter over the course of four years, between 2012 and 2016.  He will be rewarded $500 as an incentive award, and if the settlement is approved, the franchises will use only butter for a year and will explicitly state on their menus anytime a substitute is used after that point.  Up to 1,400 people can also receive up to three, free buttered muffins, bagels or other baked goods at the locations in Grafton, Leominster, Lowell, Millbury, Shrewsbury, Westborough and Worcester.  Customers would not need to show a receipt of a previous purchase.

Polanik’s attorney, Thomas G. Shapiro, could collect as much as $90,000 in the settlement.  He said he couldn’t confirm exactly which products all of the franchise locations were using, but alleges one of the stores had “a large tub that looked a lot like a tub of Country Crock, a very inexpensive spread that is sold in grocery stores.”   Shapiro also stated that the two law firms which have fought the case for more than a year would split the funds.  “It’s much more time consuming than one would imagine looking from the outside,” Shapiro told reporters. “When compared with the actual time we put into the case, this is not actually a profitable case for us.”  He says people who prefer butter simply don’t want a substitute.  “The main thrust of the case, really, is to get the stores, and hopefully Dunkin’ Donuts generally, to change that practice and not deceive people.”

Most Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants in Massachusetts carry individual butter packets as well as a butter-substitute spread, a statement submitted by Dunkin Donuts read, for those who like one or the other better.  “The majority of Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants in Massachusetts carry both individual whipped butter packets and a butter-substitute vegetable spread.”

Curled butter; image by David Masters, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0, no changes.
Curled butter; image by David Masters, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0, no changes.

Apparently, people take their butter eating seriously and those who think butter is better will not settle for an alternative.  In Wisconsin, butter laws make swapping the real deal for margarine strictly forbidden, punishable by a fine of up to $500 and three months in prison for the first offense, and as much as $1,000 and a year in prison for subsequent offenses. Margarine also cannot be served to students, patients or inmates in state facilities.  Certain real butter brands also cannot be used in grocery stores because they do not meet the state’s strict requirements.  Kerrygold is one such brand.  

Tom Balmer, a spokesman for the American Butter Institute, said he was unaware of other states with butter laws.  “Our friends in the milk, cheese, yogurt and ice cream industries are currently waging their own battles with substitutes which are frequently inferior in terms of taste, performance and (especially) nutrition,” he said in a statement. “As a result, we can foresee similar issues arising, particularly in the food service sector, if labeling and product identity messaging are less than clear.”


Butter or Margarine? In Dunkin’ Donuts Lawsuit, Man Accepts No Substitutes

Butter substitution leads to suit and settlement against 23 Dunkin’ Donuts franchises

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