In a recent federal class action lawsuit, Frito-Lay and its parent company PepsiCo were accused of violating federal and California laws by “misbranding” their potato and snack chips as healthy.
At the heart of the complaint are Frito-Lay’s claims that Lay’s potato chips are “prepared with healthier oils,” that Frito-Lay’s snack chips “contain 0 grams of Trans Fat, are low in saturated fat and cholesterol-free,” and that Frito-Lay’s snacks contain “good stuff like potatoes, which naturally contain vitamin C and essential minerals.” Plaintiffs further allege that Frito-Lay told consumers that “Snacking is an important part of a healthy diet” and that “Snacks may benefit special populations, including people with diabetes, children and adolescents, older adults, and pregnant women.”
By touting its products as healthy and neglecting to mention that Lay’s chips have more than 13 grams of fat for every 50 grams, and Frito-Lay’s snack foods contain high levels of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, or sodium, the plaintiffs allege that Frito Lay’s claims violated provisions of both the federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act and California’s Sherman Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act. Under these laws, food items are misbranded if the package labeling is false or misleading, such as the omission of disclosures about the product’s nutrient content. According to the class action lawsuit, “As consumer preferences have begun to favor healthier options, Defendants have chosen to implement a health and wellness strategy to reposition their products as a healthy option . . . . Defendants recognize that health claims drive food sales and actively promote the purported health benefits of their misbranded food products, notwithstanding the fact that such promotion violates California and federal law.”
The Frito-Lay false advertising class action lawsuit is brought on behalf of all California consumers who within the past four years purchased Frito-Lay potato chips. The class is seeking damages, restitution or disgorgement, as well as a cease-and-desist order banning the companies from selling their allegedly misbranded food products.
To read the complaint filed in Wilson v. Frito-Lay North America, Inc. et al., click here.
Why it matters: Food retailers must carefully ensure their product package labels comply with federal and state laws and regulations when making nutrient content claims. It is prudent to periodically review product labels for compliance, especially when manufacturers change the content of their products or roll out new advertising campaigns about the health benefits of these products. Indeed, the cost of prudent compliance review is insignificant in comparison to defending a class action lawsuit or an investigation by federal or state regulators.