A consumer has filed a proposed class action against Hormel Foods Corp. alleging the company misrepresents its meat products as natural and free of preservatives despite containing synthetic or genetically modified ingredients, including cultured celery powder, baking powder and maltodextrin. Phelps v. Hormel Foods Corp., No. 16-62411 (S.D. Fla., Ft. Lauderdale Div., filed October 11, 2016). The lawsuit, focused on Hormel’s Natural Choice® line of products, echoes similar claims in a complaint filed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund in June 2016. Details on that complaint appear in Issue 610 of this Update.
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture (‘USDA’) takes into account the level of processing in its policy on natural claims on food labeling,” the consumer complaint asserts. “The USDA allows such products to be labeled ‘natural’ when ‘(1) The product does not contain any artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredient, or chemical preservative , or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient; and (2) the product and its ingre- dients are not more than minimally processed.’” Arguing that Hormel induced the proposed class to pay a premium with its alleged mislabeling, the plaintiff seeks class certification, a corrective advertising campaign, damages and attorney’s fees for alleged violations of Florida consumer- protection statutes, negligent misrepresentation and unjust enrichment.