Progress on the horizon for real San Marzano tomatoes

The fight against “Italian Sounding” progresses with a lawsuit filed by Andrea Valiente, a California woman who alleged that misleading packaging duped her into purchasing what she thought were San Marzano tomatoes, but were in fact inferior quality plum tomatoes. That’s the kind of juicy news we’ve been screaming about for years. Now, the New York Times turns on the spotlight.

According to Amanda Holpuch at the NYT, “[Valiente’s] effort to make a sauce from these rich and balanced tomatoes was upset by a misleading label”. The lawsuit alleges that the company producing these tomatoes, Simpson Imports, uses “highly misleading tomato packaging to trick consumers into believing that they are purchasing genuine San Marzano tomatoes, at San Marzano prices.” Raise your hand if you too bought these white and red cans, thinking that you were getting the real deal. We won’t judge.

The US market is brimming with fraudulent Italian products, since labeling laws in this country are so lax. It’s the Wild West of Names, like our Beatrice once said on national TV. The NYT explains:

“The labeling of San Marzano tomatoes in the United States has been loose. In the European Union, only tomatoes that are grown in a specific region of Italy and that fulfill a number of other requirements receive the “designation of protected origin”, or D.O.P., to show they are San Marzanos. In the United States, some tomato sellers claim to grow strains of San Marzanos and may sell these tomatoes are “San Marzano style” or use “San Marzano” without the official European certification.”

We’ve lost count of how many times we’ve written about these exact tomatoes. Simpson Imports was forced to change the name of their tomatoes from “San Marzano Tomatoes” to “San Merican Tomatoes”. But as this lawsuit alleges, the label is still misleading consumers. In her complaint, Ms. Valiente says “the old product and current product had “nearly identical” packaging”, and that “lettering [is] so comically minuscule that it is almost impossible to see with the naked eye”.

Have a look for yourself: The newer label (left) vs. the older one (right)

San Marzano San Mericans

San Mericans have been positioned as authentic San Marzanos in other ways. For example, those exact cans appear as a pivotal plot point in Hulu’s hit series “The Bear”. Throughout the series, they are referred to as “San Marzanos,” and it would take a very discerning consumer to go against the legendary Chef Carmy.

Here at Gustiamo, we’ve made it our mission to fight the good food fight. That means standing up for the farmers and makers behind Italy’s best foods, and rallying against all attempts to dilute the integrity of our products. We’re not against US grown tomatoes, don’t get us wrong. Just call ’em by their name!  When any plum tomato masquerades as San Marzano, it hurts the honest Italian farmers of the Agro Nocerino Sarnese. 

As the New York Times puts it:

“In the United States, there is no D.O.P. or consorzio to protect against misleading labels. It is up to the consumer to know the difference.”

Our solution? Buy San Marzano tomatoes from sources you trust! We import our San Marzano tomatoes from Gustarosso in Campania, whose production was recently featured by Eater. Talk about total traceability and transparency!