Seamus Mohan (’22) | March 1, 2020
Imagine it’s a warm summer afternoon at your neighbors’ barbecue. The sound of laughter and kids splashing on the Slip-n-Slide fills the air, and the smell of sizzling burgers and hot dogs wafts towards you. Excitedly, you reach for a delicious roll of King’s Hawaiian Bread to plate up your meal. You bite into the soft, sweet bread…but something’s wrong. Your discerning palate realizes that soft, pillowy goodness tastes like it was baked in Flowery Branch, Georgia.
That soul-crushing feeling is exactly how Robert Galinsky of Yonkers, New York, felt last December when he filed suit against King’s Hawaiian for allegedly misleading customers into believing its bread is imbued with the balmy sea air of Hilo, Hawaii.
“This statement is important for U.S. consumers because they expect the absolute truth—which means no ambiguity. [T]he prominent placement of Hilo Hawaii [on King’s Hawaiian products] gives a misleading impression to consumers,” said New York law office Sheehan & Associates PC, representing Galinsky.
King’s Hawaiian was founded in Hilo in 1950 as Robert’s Bakery by Robert R. Taira, a son of Japanese immigrants, who graduated at the top of his baking class, according to King’s Hawaiian’s website. This history is commemorated on the company’s logo in discrete gray text. Twenty-two years later, the company’s California bakery in Torrance opened to meet pressing demand from the mainland states. With that new addition, popularity increased, so they opened a third main bakery in Flowery Branch, Georgia, in 2010 to meet East Coast demand.
The suit alleges that Galinsky and potentially thousands of other misled customers would not have bought King’s Hawaiian rolls had they known they weren’t made in Hawaii and instead in California or Georgia.
Galinsky’s case may seem destined to fail, but a similar class-action lawsuit against Anheuser-Busch regarding its Beck’s beer brand succeeded in 2013. The plaintiffs alleged that the beer’s branding of “German Quality” and advertised origin story under the “German Purity Law of 1516” would imply that Beck’s beer was a high-quality import, not manufactured in St. Louis, Missouri.
The plaintiffs in the Anheuser-Busch suit won a $20,000,000 settlement because they successfully argued that an imported beer brings more prestige than domestic products, attracting more customers. Some plaintiffs even admitted they would not have bought Beck’s at all if they had known it was a domestic beer.
Galinsky’s case stands on shakier legs, however. As opposed to Anheuser-Busch’s bold and assertive marketing about Beck’s exotic German origin, King’s Hawaiian only adds a passing reference to its history with small, gray lettering on its logo.
Though one could attempt to argue that the name King’s Hawaiian implies the bread is baked in Hawaii, even the plaintiffs in the suit acknowledge the absurdity of that claim. “Hawaiian rolls and company name by themselves don’t cause people to expect a product made in Hawaii any more than a moon pie be made on the moon,” said Sheehan & Associates PC, Galinsky’s legal representation.
Robert Galinsky is seeking to form a class of New York state residents who purchased packs of King’s Hawaiian rolls under the assumption they were made in Hawaii and seek “unspecified damages,” along with demanding the branding be changed.