The Central District of California granted Quaker Oats Company’s Motion to Dismiss a Consolidated Class Action Complaint on October 10. Plaintiffs alleged Quaker Oats Company was liable for labeling its “Maple & Brown Sugar”-flavored instant oatmeal as “Quaker Instant Oatmeal, Maple & Brown Sugar” alongside an image of a pitcher of maple syrup. The plaintiffs alleged fraud, false advertising, and breach of contract, claiming that the packaging creates an impression that the product contains real maple syrup.
Quaker Oats Company asserted the plaintiffs’ claims were preempted by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (“FDCA”) and the Nutritional Labeling and Education Act (“NLEA”). Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) regulations elaborate on FDCA flavoring requirements by specifically allowing labels to both describe and depict the product’s “characterizing flavor.” 21 C.F.R. § 101.22(i). A September 2016 FDA Consumer Update confirmed terms like “maple” can be used on the label of a product that does not contain maple syrup as long as the product contains maple flavoring. The update additionally encouraged consumers to look for “maple syrup” in the ingredient list if they desire it. Because Quaker Oats Company can describe the primary recognizable flavor by word and image as long as the label signifies it is “Naturally and Artificially Flavored,” federal law preempted the plaintiffs’ desired application of novel label requirements to the Maple & Brown Sugar instant oatmeal.
Takeaway: Advertisers that adhere to FDCA requirements and FDA guidelines regarding flavor labeling and refrain from indicating the product the flavor is derived from is an actual ingredient may be permitted to advertise such flavors on product packaging.