On Jan. 18, the Yolo County District Attorney’s (DA) Office announced that they came to a settlement in a case involving Johnson & Johnson and Neutrogena over deceptive packaging, leading California consumers to believe that there was more product in the packaging than there really was.
The case was settled in cooperation with the DA Offices of San Joaquin, Fresno and Shasta Counties. Both companies complied with investigations and in a settlement with the DA Offices that brought the allegations against them to pay $506,000 in civil penalties and investigation costs.
“It is easily arguable [that] it’s misleading to the public. You go and buy the biggest bag of potato chips and there aren’t any, you buy a certain size bar of soap and it’s much smaller once you open the box,” said David Irey, assistant chief deputy district attorney.
The case began in 2012 with each county’s respective Department of Agriculture and Division of Weights & Measures. In general, a Division of Weights & Measures looks for packaging that could be misleading and sometimes gets tipped off by a consumer. It is unclear, according to Irey, how the Johnson & Johnson and Neutrogena packaging case came under investigation.
Once it appeared that the packaging was deceptive to the consumer, the DA’s Offices of Yolo, San Joaquin, Shasta and Fresno Counties brought the violations to the attention of Johnson & Johnson and Neutrogena. The two companies were linked together on this case because of their corporate structure, allowing the DA offices to try them under the same case.
According to Larry Barlly, Yolo County supervising deputy DA, there were 20 to 30 items of over-the-counter beauty products that had deceptive packaging. The DA office was not able to disclose which specific products had deceptive packaging as the case ended in a settlement.
The official complaint from the Yolo County DA’s Office alleges that these products’ packaging were in violation of having non-functional ‘slack fill’ — empty space — which misleads consumers. This specific amount, however, could not be disclosed by the DA offices on the case.
There were no public health allegations made against Johnson & Johnson and Neutrogena – in this case, only allegations of misleading packaging. Barlly said that there was no conflict in this case.
Both companies now have 24 months to comply with federal, state and local laws when it comes to their packaging. They must also phase out their old packaging within the allotted 24 months.
Both companies, in the settlement did not admit any fault.
Johnson & Johnson did release the following statement as follows:
“Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies has resolved a dispute with several counties in California related to the packaging of various consumer products. Our goal is always to provide a better consumer experience, and we continually evaluate packaging over the course of a product’s life cycle. We have already updated packaging for some products with additional changes to be introduced over the next two years.”
In a press release from the Yolo County DA’s Office, DA Jeff Reisig said that the office will remain vigilant in protecting California consumers.
“No business may mislead the public by packaging its products in containers that have excessive and undisclosed empty space,” Reisig said.
Photo courtesy of yoloda.org.