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Lawsuit Over Safeway ‘Kona Blend’ Coffee Labeling Settled

April 29, 2013, 3:26 PM HST (Updated April 29, 2013, 3:27 PM)
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Safeway has settled a lawsuit filed by a customer over the labeling of its “Kona Blend” coffee.

But the Kona Coffee Farmers Association said the settlement leaves unresolved questions about whether the use of “Kona” on coffee labels violates consumer protection and fair-marketing laws.

The class-action lawsuit filed in August 2011 by California resident Chanee Thurston claimed that consumers had been misled by the labeling of “Safeway Select Kona Blend Coffee.”

Thurston alleged that the packages contained only a small amount of Kona beans, if any, with the majority of the coffee grown elsewhere.

The lawsuit sought damages of $5 million for anyone who purchased the coffee after Aug. 30, 2007.

Safeway claimed that the labeling was not misleading as it noted that the product was a blend of coffees.

After two years of litigation, the two sides settled in March.

The terms of the settlement have not been disclosed, and a motion filed by Thurston’s attorneys in federal court in California notes that each party will be responsible for their court costs.

Since the lawsuit has been filed, Safeway has also changed its labeling to indicate that its Kona blend contained at least 10% Kona coffee and that the remainder was grown in Latin America.

The company said it made the move to fulfill a promise to the Kona Coffee Farmers Association after the group – prior to the filing of the lawsuit – called for a boycott of Safeway stores over the labeling matter.

Because the lawsuit was settled before any class of consumers was certified, the association’s president, Cecelia Smith, said the issue of how blend coffee should be labeled still has not been resolved.

“Kona coffee growers had hoped that a court decision on the legal issues in the Safeway case would encourage the Hawaii Legislature and the Hawaii attorney general to begin providing the types of protections that, for example, California provides to Napa Valley Wine, Idaho to Idaho Potatoes, and Georgia to Vidalia Onions,” Smith said in a statement issued today.

“We are disappointed that there was no court decision on the issues presented by this case.”

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