A New York consumer has filed a putative class action against Victoria Fine Foods alleging the company falsely advertises its vodka sauce as “all natural” and free of preservatives despite containing citric acid. Shmidt v. Victoria Fine Foods, No. 16-0230 (E.D.N.Y., filed January 15, 2016). The complaint asserts that Victoria “sought to capitalize on consumers’ preference for natural products and the association between such products and a wholesome way of life.”
The plaintiff argues that the primary jurisdiction doctrine does not apply because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “has repeatedly declined to adopt formal rule-making that would define the word ‘natural,” although she asserts that FDA “has loosely defined the term ‘natural’ as a product that ‘does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.’” The complaint also cites the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book, “which states that the term ‘natural’ may be used on labeling for products that contain processed ingredients only where such ingredients are subjected to ‘minimal’ processing and that relatively severe processes, e.g., solvent extraction, acid hydrolysis and chemical bleaching would clearly be considered more than minimal processing.” For alleged violations of New York consumer-protection statutes as well as negligent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment and breach of warranties, the plaintiff seeks class certification, restitution, damages, an injunction and attorney’s fees.