The Animal Legal Defense Fund has brought a class-action lawsuit against Oregon dairy company Tillamook, alleging that the company engaged in deceptive marketing practices by conveying its products as being supplied by small, family farms.
The complaint, filed in the Circuit Court of the State of Oregon on Aug. 19 on behalf of several residents of the state, contends that Tillamook “causes likelihood of confusion or misunderstanding as to the source of the dairy products it sells” and “misrepresents the nature, source, characteristics, and production practices of its dairy products.”
At issue is the brand’s overall representation through its branding, marketing and social media channels. While the company’s traditional home is in the lush environs of the Oregon Coast in Tillamook County (its corporate headquarters are in Portland), it has emerged that a majority of the milk for its products comes from industrial farms in the more arid, eastern part of the state. The complaint contends that the company violates Oregon consumer protection laws and common law by implying its products come only from small farms in bucolic Tillamook County.
The lawsuit cites 72andSunny’s “Dairy Done Right” campaign—specifically the brand’s “Goodbye Big Food. Hello Real Food.” ad—as well as branded content that ran on Slate as part of the campaign. The Animal Legal Defense Fund contends that Tillamook has engaged in widespread and longstanding deceptive marketing tactics. 72andSunny and Slate both declined to comment. The complaint was first reported by The Oregonian.
The brand has issued a statement standing by its positioning as a co-op of local farmers and claiming that the lawsuit is part of a larger effort by the Animal Legal Defense Fund to eliminate dairy from consumer diets.
“Tillamook takes great pride in being a farmer-owned and farmer-led co-op, and we only work with business partners that share our values and live up to our extremely high standards,” the statement said. “Being a co-op means that the 80 farming families in Tillamook County are not just part of our high-quality milk supply; they actually own and lead the company.”
Animal Legal Defense Fund attorney Amanda Howell cited Oregon state laws preventing companies from causing confusion as to the sourcing of their goods or misleading consumers as to the geographic origin of their products. Howell said it was clear Tillamook intentionally caused such confusion in consumers through the images and descriptions in its marketing.
In branded content on Slate, Tillamook put its small farms front and center.
While Tillamook began as a collective of local dairy farmers more than a century ago, and still sources a portion of its dairy from small family farms, Howell contended that as the company has grown, it has shifted to industrial farming methods while holding onto its down-to-earth image.
“Tillamook is using these family farmers to mask their factory productions,” she said, adding that the company is “using factory farming methods, which is what is putting most small-scale dairy farmers out of business. They are very sophisticated and have been engaging in this type of marketing forever.”
In reality, she claimed, the vast majority (she estimated around 80%) of the cows producing Tillamook’s dairy are housed in the largest dairy in the state, an indoor facility at Columbia River Dairy at Threemile Canyon Farms. She described that facility, one of the largest of its kind in the country, as engaging in the type of factory farming processes Tillamook’s marketing claims the company is in opposed to. The lawsuit claims that, contrary to the messaging of Tillamook’s marketing, cows in this facility are “housed by the tens of thousands in industrial-type warehouses where they stand on concrete or in their own waste.”