Demonstrating that the focus on health-related claims has not abated, two new class actions were filed challenging the "natural" labels for deli meat claims which implied that a sugar-filled beverage was a healthy drink for consumers.
In Florida federal court, Benjamin Phelps accused Hormel Foods Corporation of deceptively labeling 17 different products—including Natural Choice Honey Deli Ham and Natural Choice Rotisserie Style Deli Chicken Breast—by proclaiming that the products were "100% Natural" and had "No Preservatives" when they actually contain synthetic ingredients and/or preservatives, such as cultured celery powder and maltodextrin.
Hormel "knowingly and purposefully" mislabeled the products, Phelps alleged, to take advantage of the burgeoning market for healthy foods. Phelps cited research studies that consumers are willing to pay up to 25 percent more for "natural" products. The defendant's "Make the Natural Choice" advertising campaign included a website and ads on numerous social media sites with claims like "Preserve your right to no preservatives."
The complaint—which seeks to recover for violations of Florida state law—requested monetary relief (restitution, disgorgement, damages, costs, and attorney's fees) as well as corrective advertising.
In a second action, the Center for Science in the Public Interest filed suit in New York federal court against PepsiCo, asserting that, despite the company's labeling of its line of Naked Juice drinks as containing healthy ingredients such as apples, berries and kale, the beverages actually contain more sugar than a can of Pepsi.
The juice and smoothie beverage line touts itself as containing super nutrients in liquid form and "only the best ingredients," but instead is comprised of "cheaper and less nutritious ingredients like apple juice," according to the complaint filed on behalf of three consumers.
For example, Pepsi markets the Kale Blazer using pictures of kale and other leafy greens along with claims such as "dark leafy goodness" and "NO SUGAR ADDED," implying that the drinks are low in sugar. But the drink is mostly sugary orange juice, the group alleged, with some added kale flavor. As part of its marketing campaign, the company generally "exaggerated" the presence of kale in the drink and created a Twitter handle (@TweetsByKale) to promote the drink with tweets like "if you can't eat 'em, drink 'em," and images of the bottle surrounded by kale leaves.
According to the complaint, the statement "Kale flavored 8 juice blend" on the bottom of the label, was in "very small print" and was "neither prominent nor adjacent to the Kale Blazer name." The message also "overwhelmed the other marketing and messaging" in contravention of state and federal law.
"By misrepresenting the amount of the named ingredients and non-named ingredients (through omission), and by implying that Naked beverages are low in sugar, PepsiCo misleads consumers into believing that the products have a different nutrition and ingredient profile than they do," CSPI argued.
To read the complaint in Phelps v. Hormel Foods Corp., click here.
To read the complaint in Lipkind v. PepsiCo., Inc., click here.
Why it matters: Even though the lawsuits targeted different products—deli meats and smoothies—the complaints emphasize the risks advertisers take when trying to reach health-conscious consumers.