The second time was not the charm for a plaintiff suing Kind LLC over label claims for its snack bars.
Rochelle Ibarrola alleged in her Illinois federal complaint that the company’s claim that its Vanilla Blueberry Clusters bar contained “no refined sugars” was false and misleading. After reading the ingredients list, she saw that the snack bar had evaporated cane juice and molasses, both of which contain refined sugars.
She claimed she understood that unrefined sugars provided certain health benefits over refined sugars and chose Kind’s product based on this preference.
Kind responded that Ibarrola failed to fully explain her confusion—did she think that the Vanilla Blueberry Clusters bar contained only naturally occurring sugars that had not been refined at all?
Dismissing the case for a second time—and with prejudice—the court said Ibarrola’s allegations were “not plausible,” as she could not have believed that the bar contained unrefined sugars with evaporated cane juice and molasses listed as ingredients.
“Because Ibarrola read the entire product label and thus saw that the product contained evaporated cane juice, she recognized that at least one of the sweeteners in the Vanilla Blueberry Clusters was derived from sugar cane,” U.S. District Court Judge Sara L. Ellis wrote. “Thus, taken at her words, Ibarrola alleges that she thought that Vanilla Blueberry Clusters contained sugar cane in its natural state, not having gone through any process to refine it.”
The court recognized that sugar cane in its natural state is inedible, and is “a grass that contains jointed stalks resembling bamboo,” made up of “fibrous flesh surrounded by bark.”
“Given this reality, no reasonable consumer would think—as Ibarrola alleges she did—that the sugar contained in Kind’s Healthy Grains products was still in its natural, completely unrefined state,” Judge Ellis said. “Even though a reasonable consumer may not understand everything that happens to sugar cane before its derivative can be added as an ingredient in Vanilla Blueberry Clusters, a reasonable consumer would know that all sugar cane-derived sweeteners suitable for human consumption must be at least partially refined. Reasonable consumers do not believe that they are eating straight sugar cane in Vanilla Blueberry Clusters or any other food product because sugar cane in its natural, unprocessed state is indigestible.”
A reasonable consumer would know that sugar cane must be at least partially refined to be edible, the court said. “Thus, the Court finds that the only reasonable conclusion after reading the entire Vanilla Blueberry Clusters label is that Kind used the word ‘refined’ as a term of art to distinguish partially refined sugars like evaporated cane juice and molasses from fully refined sugars like table sugar.”
Judge Ellis analogized the plaintiff’s claims to a false advertising suit alleging that consumers believed Crunchberries cereal contained actual berries.
To read the opinion in Ibarrola v. Kind, LLC, click here.
Why it matters: The court noted that its decision should not be read as a “get out of jail free” card for advertising claims. “That is not to say that food producers have carte blanche to make false assertions so long as the nutritional and ingredient information is accurate; rather, the Court finds that to arrive at a reasonable understanding of the claim ‘no refined sugars,’ Ibarrola should have considered the other information she encountered on the product’s packaging,” Judge Ellis explained. “Thus, the Court finds that because Ibarrola has not plausibly alleged that Kind’s packages contained any deceptive statements, her fraud claims are dismissed.”