The past two years label lawsuits, particularly in California, have exploded. Not only in the number of label lawsuits being brought, but the large number that are certified as class action lawsuits. General Mills joins the group of food producers now confronted with a class-action lawsuit for alleged deceptive claims made on its packaging. This suit follows closely on the certification and subsequent settlement in the Nutella suit.
Last week U.S. District Court Judge Samuel Conti denied General Mills’ appeal to throw out a class-action lawsuit brought against it, which alleged the company’s marketing campaign for Fruit Roll-Ups, Fruit by the Foot, is deceptive and misleads consumers about fruit snacks’ healthfulness.
The complaint contends that the labeling of fruit-flavored snacks violates various state laws, including Minnesota’s Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act, where the company is head quartered, and several California laws governing misleading and deceptive advertising and fraudulent business practices.
According to the complaint filed last year by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and the Reese Richman law firm on behalf of Annie Lam, a California mother, the company’s marketing campaign for Fruit Roll-Ups, Fruit by the Foot and other fruit snacks included “misleading statements that its products were nutritious, healthful to consume, and better than similar fruit snacks,” when in fact, the complaint continues, the “fruit snacks contained trans fat, added sugars, and artificial food dyes; lacked significant amounts of real, natural fruit; and had no dietary fiber. The complaint also alleges the packaging was likely to deceive consumers into believing the snacks are healthful and natural, rather than a combination of artificial, non-fruit ingredients.
Commenting on his decision, Conti said, reasonable consumers might be misled by packaging that claimed the snacks are “made with real fruit,” and would not read the fine print.
“The court agrees with Lam. The fruit snacks’ ingredients list cannot be used to correct the message that reasonable consumers may take from the rest of the packaging: that the fruit snacks are made with a particular type and quantity of fruit,” he said.
The precedent is growing in California where food manufacturers are held liable for claims on the packaging that are technically compliant with FDA regulations and guidelines, but otherwise deemed reasonably misleading. Absent from many of these cases is any discussion of whether plaintiffs assumed the risk by not reading the ingredients label. Notice these cases are only arising in California, other courts may be less sympathetic to claims that exclude any reference to the back of the box.
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