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Lawsuit Alleges Cento is Selling Imposter San Marzano Tomatoes

— May 23, 2019

A class-action lawsuit was recently filed by three home cooks in California over allegations that San Marzano tomatoes sold by Cento are imposters.

For many chefs and home cooks, tomatoes are a prime ingredient for many dishes, especially canned tomatoes. Would it surprise you, though, to learn that sometimes certain brands of tomatoes aren’t what they seem? In fact, a new lawsuit claims San Marzano tomatoes sold by the company Cento are imposter San Marzano tomatoes. This is a big deal because San Marzano tomatoes are highly prized by many people and even cost more than other brands. When commenting on the tomatoes, Elia Gambaccini said, “They get this very low acidity, PH is around 4.5, and they’re sweeter.” Gambaccini’s family owns Cafe Baonecci in North Beach. He added the San Marzano tomatoes “make for great pizza and pasta sauce.”

San Marzano Tomatoes
San Marzano Tomatoes; image courtesy of Goldlocki via Wikimedia Commons,

According to the new lawsuit filed by three Northern California home cooks last week, Cento is peddling imposter San Marzano tomatoes to command a higher price.” Gambaccini said, “The real San Marzano tomatoes are grown close to the Valle Del Sarno, which is in Campania close to Naples.”

Melissa Weiner, the attorney for the plaintiffs, also chimed in and said:

“Just like champagne, San Marzano tomatoes are a region-specific food, and reasonable consumers purchase them-and pay a premium price-to capture the superior look and taste of Southern Italy’s rich volcanic soil. Our clients and the members of the putative class relied upon the alleged certification of Cento’s San Marzano tomatoes and were induced into purchasing these tomatoes believing they were, in fact, certified and thus authentic San Marzano tomatoes as promised.”

Why do the plaintiff’s think the tomatoes are imposters, though? Well, according to the suit, the “defendant’s labeling, packaging, and website are designed to lead reasonable consumers to believe the Products are ‘San Marzano’ tomatoes from Italy, when, in fact, the Products are not true San Marzano tomatoes.” For example, when Gambaccini “looked at a label on a can of Cento’s San Marzano tomatoes and thought it looked authentic, the label did not include the D.O.P certification, a protected designation of origin under European Union regulations.” Because of that, Gambaccini said “I would never buy this.”

In filing the suit, Weiner said the plaintiffs hope to be reimbursed “for the price they paid for tomatoes that are, as alleged, not certified or true San Marzano tomatoes and halt Cento’s allegedly deceptive marketing and labeling of the tomatoes.”

When questioned about the matter, Cento issued the following statement on its website:

“Cento Certified San Marzano Tomatoes have always been, and continue to be grown and produced in the Sarnese Nocerino area of Italy. They continue to follow the same premium-quality standards that Cento has always stood by, the standards that made us the leading brand in the United States for San Marzano tomatoes. San Marzano tomatoes are regulated and certified authentic by an independent third party, Agri-Cert, using the guidelines created to regulate San Marzano tomatoes in Italy. These guidelines were created to help differentiate a true San Marzano tomato that follows the criteria from other varietal Italian tomatoes grown outside the designated region or domestically. This ensures shoppers aren’t misled by non-genuine products who use the San Marzano name in their products, which, without following the strict criteria, may be inferior quality or contain a different flavor profile.”


Tomato Fight: New lawsuit alleges imposter Italian tomatoes

Lawsuit claims Cento’s prized San Marzano tomatoes are impostors

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