Holding that consumers would not have been misled about the claims at issue, a California federal court judge denied a motion to certify a class of plaintiffs in a suit challenging Ocean Spray’s use of the phrases “100% Juice” and “No Sugar Added” to describe its drinks.
The plaintiff alleged that the “100% Juice” label for its Diet Sparkling Pomegranate Blueberry drink violated California law and constituted false and misleading advertising.
In addition, the “No Sugar Added” claims deceived consumers into thinking the juices were low in calories and did not contain the necessary disclaimer language in violation of 21 C.F.R. Section 101.60(c)(2) that provides that unless a product also meets the requirements to be labeled as a reduced- or low-calorie food, products that are labeled as “no sugar added” must also bear “a statement that the food is not ‘low calorie’ or ‘calorie reduced’ . . . and that directs consumers’ attention to the nutrition panel for further information on sugar and calorie content.”
Ocean Spray countered that the plaintiff’s deposition testimony made clear she understood the 100% juice products were not low-calorie foods. When asked whether she purchased the drinks in question because she thought it was a reduced-calorie product, the plaintiff answered “no.” When the question was rephrased to ask whether she thought the products were “low calorie” at the time of her purchase, she again replied in the negative.
This evidence was sufficient for the court to grant the defendant’s motion to dismiss.
“Plaintiff’s theory requires her to show that she relied on allegedly deceptive or misleading statements (or omissions) on labels when she decided to purchase Defendant’s 100% Juice products,” U.S. District Court Judge Edward J. Davila wrote. “[T]he Court concludes that Plaintiff cannot meet her burden in opposition simply by raising allegations or theories which are unsupported by any actual evidence.”
The plaintiff’s attempt to re-frame her claims that she relied on Ocean Spray’s labels as touting the drinks as “better and healthier” did not persuade the court to overlook the theory put forth in her complaint and her deposition testimony. “Plaintiff’s own deposition testimony establishes that she never believed Defendant’s products were low-calorie,” the court said. “Again, in order for Plaintiff to prevail on her theory of mislabeling due to an absence of the [required] disclaimer, Plaintiff must have relied on the ‘No Sugar Added’ message, not to mean some general level of unhealthiness, but to mean that the 100% Juice products were low-calorie or low in calories.”
Judge Davila also found that the “No Sugar Added” message not only conformed to the plaintiff’s understanding but was also factually accurate. Ocean Spray’s juices are “fruit juices from concentrate,” which contain the same ratio of water to sugar solids and other compounds that exist naturally, as distinct from “fruit juice concentrate” drinks that contain a higher level of sugar than would exist naturally.
This difference is important, the court said, because the precise language of the regulations prohibits the use of the term “No Sugar Added” only when the products contain an ingredient containing added sugars “such as concentrated fruit juice.”
“Plaintiff’s legal theory is based on an overbroad application of [the regulations] because it does not account for the difference between ‘fruit juice from concentrate’ and ‘fruit juice concentrate,’” Judge Davila wrote. “As the plain language of the regulation makes clear, only ‘ingredients containing added sugars’ are prohibited from carrying the ‘No Sugar Added’ label. Since the undisputed evidence establishes that Defendant’s 100% Juice products, made with juice from concentrate, contain the same amount of sugar that would have existed naturally, the products cannot be said to contain ‘added sugars.’ Thus . . . Plaintiff’s theory of liability fails as a result.”
To read the order in Major v. Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc., click here.
Why it matters: In addition to granting the defendant’s motion to dismiss, Judge Davila denied the plaintiff’s motion for class certification as moot.