In another case addressing the use of the term “natural,” a U.S. District Court in California denied ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s motion to dismiss a suit in which plaintiffs alleged that the phrase “All Natural” on ice cream and frozen yogurt packaging was false and deceptive.
The California-based plaintiffs specifically claimed that the products contained alkalized cocoa, which is processed with man-made potassium carbonate and therefore the “All Natural” labels violated California’s unfair and deceptive business practice laws.
Ben & Jerry’s argued that the plaintiffs failed to state an actual injury and that their claims should be preempted by Food and Drug Administration labeling regulations or, alternatively, that the court should abstain from deciding the case and refer the issue of what constitutes a “natural” product to the FDA.
But U.S. District Court Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton disagreed.
Relying on a recent California Supreme Court decision, the judge said that the putative class had adequately stated an “injury-in-fact.”
“The injury is that they were deceived, and paid money they would not otherwise have paid had they known about the potassium carbonate in the cocoa,” the court said. A reasonable consumer could have been deceived into believing that the products contained only natural ingredients, the court said, and whether that applied to the entirety of the class was a question of fact to be decided later.
Because the FDA has yet to regulate the use of the term “natural” on a food label, the court said the plaintiffs’ claims were not preempted, and the court declined to abstain from deciding the suit.
To read the court’s decision in Astiana v. Ben & Jerry’s, click here.
Why it matters: “Natural” is a contentious term, and the lack of guidance from the FDA is proving frustrating for manufacturers, who have been facing litigation and action from consumer groups. In addition to the Ben & Jerry’s suit, multiple class actions have been filed against Snapple over its use of “All Natural” label claims for drinks that include high fructose corn syrup.