Are Tea Bags “Made in the USA” if the Tea Inside the Bags is Imported?

Jul 11th '24

Can you advertise tea bags as having been manufactured in the United States if the tea inside the tea bags was imported?  That was the issue in a recent lawsuit in federal court in California.


The packaging for Bigelow tea promotes that its tea bags are “MANUFACTURED IN THE USA.”  The tea itself is imported from India, China, and other countries.  The raw tea is also processed – the “withering, rolling oxidizing, drying, and sorting” – abroad as well.  Apparently, “It is this foreign processing that determines the resulting type of tea – green, black, or oolong – and it is this processing that renders the tea consumable.”  Once the tea gets to Bigelow’s manufacturing facility, the company then blends the tea and packages the tea in tea bags.


Some consumers sued for false advertising under California law, arguing that Bigelow’s “manufactured in USA” claim is literally false because the tea is, in fact, grown and processed outside of the United States.  Plaintiffs later moved for summary judgment, claiming that the claim is inherently deceptive as a matter of law.  Bigelow argued, on the other hand, that the “manufactured in USA” statement is true because the tea bags themselves are, in fact, made in the United States.  Bigelow also argued that the plaintiffs haven’t established that reasonable consumers would be mislead.


The court granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs, holding that the “manufactured in USA” statement is literally false.  The court wrote, “the tea leaves inside are vital to the tea bags as consumers purchase tea for the tea itself.  In fact, the tea leaves are not only a component part of the tea bag; they are the very essence of the tea bag.”


The issue that Bigelow struggled with in this case is one that advertisers commonly face.  Many companies have substantial manufacturing operations in the United States.  And, to those companies, it seems to them that their products are, in fact, being made here.  If you’ve got a plant here, lots of employees here, and you’re actually making the product here, why can’t you advertise the product as having been “made in the USA”?  The issue is that under both federal and state standards, advertisers are held to a very high standard when making a “made in USA” claim.  The FTC standard, for example, requires advertisers to demonstrate that the product is “all or virtually all” made here.  That means that, even if you’ve got substantial operations here, you’ve got to consider whether there are any material aspects of the product, or product costs, that are not of U.S. origin.


Banks v. R.C. Bigelow, Inc., 2024 WL 3330554 (C.D. Cal. 2024).


Reposted: Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz.


About Frankfurt Kurnit

Founded more than 40 years ago as a boutique law firm servicing the entertainment and arts communities in New York City, Frankfurt Kurnit now provides the highest quality legal services to clients in a wide range of industries and disciplines worldwide.


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