Traeger, the manufacturer and pioneer of popular pellet grills, is on the wrong end of a class-action lawsuit. A customer in California claims the company misrepresents its bags of wood pellets as consisting of a single type of premium wood when, in truth, all bags of Traeger wood pellets are made with a majority of alder or oak woods and flavored oils. So a bag of cherry pellets may actually contain no cherry wood.
Marketing words like "pure" and "100% hardwood" on the packaging and website make it appear that the bag consists a single type of premium wood, so we'll see if the courts agree that the plaintiff has a case. The class-action lawsuit states that the plaintiff "wished to raise his grilling results to the next level" but that "when Plaintiff used Defendant's Mesquite BBQ Wood Pellets to grill, he found that his food's flavor did not reflect actual mesquite wood." Hmm... a product didn't live up to its marketing hype? This is hardly breaking news, but we'll see if the judge in the case determines that Traeger is guilty of false advertising.
We asked a well-known manufacturer of pellets who competes with Traeger about the suit. "Traeger pellets have been short on flavor for a long time. They came up with the plan to add flavoring oils and got a patent on it. They even sued other pellet manufacturers to protect that patent too. As a pellet manufacturer, I would not wish a California class action suit against any competitor. However, the suit unfairly targets one of the largest pellet companies while other offenders carry on."
To that we might add, most pellet manufacturers blend the flavor wood on the label with a base wood, often oak, because oak is relatively inexpensive, tastes good, and plays nicely with the machinery that makes the pellets. So how much cherry is in a cherry pellet? In the case of Traeger, probably none. In the case of a few others, 100%. But in most cases it is probably closer to 50%. Is this misleading too? If you are a believer in truth in labeling, it sure is. Consider this precedent in the wine world: Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon can have up to 15% of another grape in the blend. Is that misleading? Dishonest? How do consumers know what they are getting? They don't. We have to take the manufacturer's word. There is no government regulation requiring that X% of the wood on a bag of wood pellets is actually the wood listed on the label. So now we have to ask, do we need a government inspector going into pellet manufacturers' facilities and certifying them? Furthermore, just how important is the type of wood? As Meathead explains in his article on wood, it is pretty darn hard to taste the differences, especially when you consider there are meat flavors, rubs, and sauces in the taste profile, and especially on a pellet smoker where wood flavor tends to be mild anyway.