A Hawaii resident has filed a putative nationwide class action against Cargill, Inc., alleging that the company falsely advertises its Truvia® sweetener product as “natural” when it is actually made from ingredients that are “either synthetic or harshly chemically processed.” Howerton v. Cargill, Inc., No. 13-0336 (U.S. Dist. Ct., D. Haw., filed July 8, 2013).

According to the complaint, the company markets the product with “natural imagery such as the leaves of the stevia plant,” yet “the stevia-derived ingredient, Reb A, is not the natural crude preparation of stevia, but rather is a highly chemically processed and purified form of the stevia leaf extract,” and Reb A “comprises only 1% of Truvia.” The plaintiff alleges that “the main ingredient, erythritol, which Cargill also purports to be a natural ingredient derived through natural processes, is not made like it is in nature, but rather is synthetically made. Cargill describes the process of obtaining stevia leaf extract as ‘similar to making tea,’ but does not tell the consumer that Cargill then adds ethanol, methanol, or rubbing alcohol to this so-called ‘tea’ in a patented multi-step process to purify it.” The plaintiff claims that the product is priced some 300 percent more than Sweet ‘N Low® and 67 percent more than Splenda® and that she “suffered an injury by purchasing the Product at inflated prices.”

Seeking to certify a nationwide class and statewide subclass of consumers, the plaintiff alleges unjust enrichment, violation of a Hawaii law proscribing unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices, violation of Hawaii’s Uniform Deceptive Trade Practice Act, breach of express and implied warranty under multiple state laws, and violation of the states’ consumer fraud laws. She also seeks injunctive relief, a corrective advertising campaign, an order requiring the defendant to “notify each and every individual and/or business who purchased the Product of the pendency of the claims” to give them an opportunity to obtain restitution, restitution, disgorgement, and damages.