On Tuesday, April 15th, General Mills — the company behind many familiar grocery brands like Betty Crocker, Bisquick, Cheerios, Pillsbury, and others — quietly updated the legal terms on its website to include oblique language that suggests a consumer who joins the company’s online communities or interacts with the company in other ways was agreeing to forfeit the right to pursue legal action against the company.
Actions that qualify would include downloading coupons, liking the company’s Facebook page, or entering company sweepstakes, among others.
On the General Mills' homepage, the company published the following statement:
When The New York Times contacted General Mills to clarify the changes, the company “seemed to go even further, suggesting that buying its products would bind consumers to those terms.”
In response to the public outcry about the company’s policy update, General Mills published an amendment to the revised terms on Thursday, April 17th, citing the “broadly mischaracterized” discussion, perhaps alluding to the watchful eye of The New York Times.
“No one is precluded from suing us merely by purchasing our products at the store or liking one of our brand Facebook pages,” said the new statement published on General Mills’ blog. “When consumers interact with us online, such as subscribing to an online publication, entering a sweepstakes, or downloading coupons from websites such as Pillsbury.com or BettyCrocker.com, we list the legal terms guiding that interaction. These terms kick in only when you engage and agree, but even then, nothing in the policy precludes a consumer from pursuing a claim.”
Meanwhile, The New York Times consulted lawyers to weigh in on the so-called amendment, who found the changes “vaguely written, leaving them open to a wide range of interpretation.”
Julia Duncan, a program director at the American Association for Justice, noted that the company’s terms, which “require all disputes related to the purchase or use of any General Mills product or service to be resolved through binding arbitration,” were likely designed to cover a broad range of activity related to the company.
“It may be possible anything you purchase from them would be held to this clause,” Duncan told The New York Times.
As of this morning, General Mills' Facebook page seems to have disappeared. A search in Facebook points to an organization page with 31,654 likes, but now leads to the company's Wikipedia page.
Update: Citing consumer feedback, General Mills has announced a decision to return to its prior legal terms, which do not mention arbitration.
Karen Lo is an associate editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @appleplexy.