In a twist on the never-ending litigations surrounding “natural” product claims, Procter & Gamble recently filed a Lanham Act suit against Hello Products LLC in New York federal court.
Hello launched a line of oral care products in 2013 touted as “99% natural” as an alternative to traditional, processed toothpaste. P&G alleges that both of these claims are false and misleading.
The product packaging for Hello toothpaste includes the “99% natural” claim with similar statements on its Web site and in promotional materials. But testing conducted by P&G – the maker of the Crest family of toothpastes – discovered that Hello Paste contains ingredients such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sorbitol, and Xylitol. Each of these three ingredients is subjected to extensive chemical processing before transforming into the ingredients included in the product, the plaintiff said. Together, these three ingredients, plus fluoride, comprise half of the ingredients in Hello Paste, according to the complaint.
Acknowledging that a uniform definition of “natural” ingredients does not exist for cosmetics or over-the-counter drugs, the plaintiff said it was still clear that Hello deceives consumers.
“No reasonable definition of ‘natural’ includes ingredients that, even if sourced from ‘nature’ (as all product ingredients must be), are subjected to extensive, transformative chemical processing before their inclusion in a product,” P&G said in its complaint, citing for support a decision from the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureaus as well as guidance from the Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture.
Hello’s comparative advertising also violates the Lanham Act, P&G alleged. Claims such as “not the old copy + paste” and “chemistry not chemicals” on the company’s Web site are coupled with negative comparisons of competitive products, including characterizations of Crest and Colgate-Palmolive toothpastes as “chemically enriched.” The company’s attempt to position itself as “uniquely natural” – even though it contains the same active chemical ingredient, fluoride, as Crest – “is thus literally false or false by necessary implication,” according to the complaint.
P&G noted it delayed filing based upon representations from Hello that the company would remove the 99% label and product comparisons from its Web site. As Hello failed to make the promised changes, P&G now seeks injunctive relief that requires Hello to cease making the claims at issue, to disseminate corrective advertising, and to pay a monetary award of treble damages.
To read the complaint in The Procter & Gamble Co. v. Hello Products LLC, click here.
Why it matters: False advertising lawsuits over “natural” claims are certainly not new. However, these lawsuits typically take the form of consumer class actions. P&G’s Lanham Act complaint takes a note from the plaintiffs’ bar and may trigger other such suits in the future.