California residents have filed a putative class action in a federal court against grocery chain Trader Joe’s Co., alleging that a number of its “All Natural” products contain synthetic or artificial ingredients and thus are mislabeled and falsely advertised. Larsen v. Trader Joe’s Co., No. 11-5188 (U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Cal., San Francisco Div., filed October 24, 2011).

According to the complaint, “The labeling of products as ‘All Natural’ carries implicit health benefits important to consumers—benefits that consumers are often willing to pay a premium for over comparable products that are not ‘All Natural.’ Trader Joe’s has cultivated and reinforced a corporate image that has catered to this ‘All Natural’ theme and has boldly emblazed this claim on each and every one of its foods identified above, despite the fact Trader Joe’s uses synthetic ingredients in the products identified above.” The listed products include cookies, biscuits, cheese, fruit jellies, and apple juice sold under the Trader Joe’s label. The purported synthetic ingredients include potassium carbonate, xanthan gum, sodium citrate, and ascorbic acid. The plaintiffs acknowledge that these ingredients are listed on product labels, but contend that Trader Joe’s did not disclose that these ingredients are synthetic.

Claiming purely economic damages, that is, failure to receive the products bargained for and paying a premium for products purporting to be all natural “rather than paying the lesser amount for non-natural alternatives,” the plaintiffs seek the certification of a nationwide class. They allege common law fraud; unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business practices under California law; false advertising under California law; violation of the Consumers Legal Remedies Act; and restitution based on quasi-contract/unjust enrichment. They request restitution; compensatory, statutory and punitive damages; “[a] declaration and order enjoining Trader Joe’s from advertising its products misleadingly, in violation of California’s Sherman Food, Drug and Cosmetic Law and other applicable laws and regulations”; attorney’s fees, costs and interest; and an accounting and the imposition of a constructive trust on all “monies received by Trader Joe’s as a result of the unfair, misleading, fraudulent and unlawful conduct alleged.”