Continuing the steady stream of suits challenging health and marketing claims, two class actions were recently filed over “fat free” and “all natural” advertising.
A proposed class action was filed in New Jersey federal court alleging that Smart Balance lied about the amount of fat in its “Fat Free” milk. According to the complaint, instead of being fat free, the milk actually contains 1 gram of fat per serving, which is double the legal limit of 0.5 grams of fat per serving for companies to label products as “Fat Free.”
The suit alleges that the company’s claims preyed on Americans “desperate for healthy options in the supermarket aisles,” and aggressively marketed, promoted and labeled its line of Fat Free Enhanced Milks as “Fat Free” despite its content. “Fat Free” is a nutrient content claim regulated by the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the plaintiffs contend, and Smart Balance violated 21 C.F.R. §101.62(b), which established the limit of 0.5 grams of fat per serving. The plaintiffs seek to enjoin the defendant from continued marketing or sales of the mislabeled product, as well as trebled damages and punitives.
In a second suit, California residents filed a class action against Trader Joe’s Company for false advertising. The plaintiffs claim that the company’s products – including Joe-Joe’s Chocolate Vanilla Crème Cookies and Trade Joe’s Fresh Pressed Apple Juice – labeled as “all natural” or “100% natural” actually contain synthetic ingredients like ascorbic acid, sodium citrate, and xanthan gum.
The suit contends the grocery chain “cultivat[ed] a wholesome and healthful image in an effort to promote the sale of these products, even though its food products were actually not ‘all natural.’” While the complaint notes that the Food and Drug Administration does not directly regulate the term “natural,” it argues that the agency has a policy which defines “the outer boundaries of the use of that term by clarifying that a product is not natural if it contains color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”
Seeking to certify a nationwide class, the suit asks for injunctive relief to stop Trader Joe’s from labeling its products “all natural” if they contain synthetic ingredients, as well as statutory and punitive damages.
To read the complaint in Stewart v. Smart Balance, click here.
To read the complaint in Larsen v. Trader Joe’s Company, click here.
Why it matters: The suits are just the latest examples of consumer class actions challenging advertisers’ use of “all natural” or “fat free” claims. Similar suits have been filed against defendants, including Kashi, Snapple, Nutella and Ben & Jerry’s.