Last January, Aimen Halim visited a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in Mount Prospect, Illinois, where he bought an order of “boneless wings.” Unbeknownst to Halim, these were not “wings” at all: They were actually spicy, deep-fried chunks of chicken breast meat. That horrifying discovery was just the beginning of the Chicago resident’s ordeal, which is the basis of a would-be class-action lawsuit that he filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
It was bad enough that Halim paid good money for what he assumed was deboned chicken wing meat. Had he “known that the Products are not actually chicken wings,” the complaint says, he “would have paid less for them” or “would not have purchased them at all.” Worse, Halim is now living in a constant state of “uncertainty” regarding the nature of those products.
While Halim “currently believes the marketing and advertising of the Products are inaccurate,” the lawsuit says, “he lacks personal knowledge as to Defendants’ specific business practices, and thus, he will not be able [to] determine whether the Products are actually made of chicken wing meat. This leaves doubt in his mind as to the possibility that at some point in the future the Products could be made in accordance with the representations made regarding the Products.”
Halim is represented by Treehouse Law, a Los Angeles outfit that bills itself as the country’s “premier consumer class action firm.” His lawyers argue that Buffalo Wild Wings’ shocking scam violates the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act and constitutes breach of express warranty and common law fraud. They propose a class action on behalf of Halim and “similarly situated” consumers across the country, who they say are “entitled to restitution, disgorgement, and/or the imposition of a constructive trust upon all profits, benefits, and other compensation obtained by [Buffalo Wild Wings] from its deceptive, misleading, and unlawful conduct.”
Instead of acknowledging its wrongdoing, Buffalo Wild Wings added insult to injury by mocking Halim’s claims. “It’s true,” the company tweeted this week. “Our boneless wings are all white meat chicken. Our hamburgers contain no ham. Our buffalo wings are 0% buffalo.”
The chain’s indifference to the suffering it has inflicted on consumers like Halim is part of a pattern, Halim’s lawyers note. It has been well aware of this issue at least since 2020, when a Lincoln, Nebraska, consumer “called out restaurants like Buffalo
Wild Wings for using the name ‘Boneless Wing'” in a “speech he made to his local city council.”
That brave man, Ander Christensen, did not hesitate to tell the plain truth: “Nothing about boneless chicken wings actually come[s] from the wing of a chicken. We would be disgusted if a butcher was mislabeling their cuts of meats, but then we go around pretending as though the breast of the chicken is its wing.”
In response, Buffalo Wild Wings condescendingly praised Christensen’s “passion” but rejected his complaint. “We serve boneless wings—our guests love them and we love them!” it said. “So while we disagree with Ander on his mission, we respect his passion for chicken. So we’re giving him free traditional wings for a year. We’re also going to donate $1 for every boneless wing sold on Labor Day in Lincoln, Neb., to the local Boys & Girls Club.”
That transparent attempt to buy off a critic who dared to call a boneless wing a breast cannot conceal the fact that Buffalo Wild Wings, to this very day, is still “pretending as though the breast of the chicken is its wing.” Why would it do that? It all comes down to the bottom line: As Halim’s lawyers note, so-called boneless wings are less expensive than actual wings, the cost of which has soared in recent years thanks partly to the Great Recession.
“Restaurants, normally big buyers of breast meat, slashed orders as millions of people cut back on eating out, and breast prices slumped,” The New York Times reported in 2009. “But demand for wings has remained strong, partly because people perceived them as a cheap luxury.” Halim’s complaint notes that “the dramatic rise in chicken wing prices was even recognized by Buffalo Wild Wings itself.” It therefore “seems clear why Buffalo Wild Wings began selling boneless wings, and why it has continued to purposefully mislead consumers: a profit motive.”
The restaurant chain, in short, sells its “boneless wings” to make money, without regard to the damage it is doing to unwary consumers like Halim and Christensen. True, it describes that product as “juicy all-white chicken.” But as the Times points out, it is not clear “whether chicken wings are light or dark meat, and whether the Buffalo Wild Wings advertisement of ‘juicy all-white chicken’ might have offered a clue about its wings.”
While “wings are technically white meat,” the Times notes, they “have similar fat levels to legs and thighs.” Although Halim’s complaint does not delve into the controversy over how wings should be classified, that debate reinforces his case that Buffalo Wild Wings should have anticipated the confusion and uncertainty that would ensue when it “recklessly disregarded the fact that the Products are not chicken wings.”
The lawsuit notes that other chains have behaved more responsibly. Domino’s Pizza and Papa Johns call similar products “boneless chicken” and “Buffalo chicken poppers,” respectively. Yet Buffalo Wild Wings sticks with its deliberately ambiguous “juicy all-white chicken” description, lest its customers catch a glimpse of breast.
Just as “there is nothing ‘Texas’ about Texas Pete” hot sauce, as another recent class action revealed, “nothing about boneless chicken wings actually come[s] from the wing of a chicken,” as Christensen pointed out three years ago. Think of how many customers have been duped in the meantime.
The lead plaintiff in the Texas Pete case, who is represented by the Malibu-based Clarkson Law Firm, is a Californian named Phillip White. As Reason‘s Christian Britschgi noted, it seems that White cannot escape the trickery of wily capitalists. He was fooled not only by Texas Pete but also by Benefiber, which is labeled as “100% natural” despite the “multi-step chemical process” used to produce the supplement, and by “reef friendly” Kroger sunscreen containing chemicals that allegedly “can harm” reefs. Other lawsuits filed by the Clarkson Law Firm complain that Snapple drinks are not really “all natural”; that consumers mistakenly think Barilla pasta comes from Italy; and that the opaque packaging of Whole Foods Organic Shells & Cheese (which includes a net weight statement) conceals the fact that the boxes are only partly full.
Halim’s lawyers also have been busy in this area. Among other things, they claim that consumers mistakenly think Truffettes de France Truffles are made in France; that Starbucks customers do not realize that its “sprouted grain” bagels are “made primarily with traditional, non-sprouted grains”; and that “100% Biodegradable” WaterWipes “will not completely decompose within a reasonable time period after customary disposal” because they “are customarily thrown in the trash, which means the Wipes ultimately end up in landfills or incinerators.”
The injuries perceived by Treehouse Law may seem like small potatoes. Assuming that Halim, for example, paid $13.49 for an order of 10 “boneless wings” (the price in Mount Prospect) and would have been willing to spend somewhat less had he fully understood what he was buying, he may be out just a few bucks. But when you multiply a few bucks by all the customers who have been victimized in the same way at any of the country’s 500 or so Buffalo Wild Wings outlets, you can begin to understand the magnitude of this travesty.
Halim’s lawyers think basic fairness demands that the chain disgorge those ill-gotten gains and that they get a cut of that sum as compensation for helping to expose and correct this injustice. Unlike Buffalo Wild Wings, which is driven by an unseemly “profit motive,” they are simply doing well by doing good.
The post A Class Action Reveals the Horrifying Truth: 'Boneless Wings' Are Breast Meat! appeared first on Reason.com.
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