A California federal court has certified a class of California consumers who allege that Blue Diamond Growers’ almond milk is mislabeled as “All Natural” and hides its added sugar content by listing “evaporated cane juice” (ECJ) on its label instead. Werdebaugh v. Blue Diamond Growers, No. 5:12-cv-2724 (U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Cal., San Jose Div., order entered May 23, 2014). The court granted plaintiff Chris Werdebaugh’s motion for certification of the California class but rejected his request for nationwide certification because he had not shown that California had any interest that outweighed the interests of other states in determining their own policies.
Werdebaugh argued that the “All Natural” label on Blue Diamond’s almond milk is misleading because the product contains chemical preservatives, synthetic chemicals and added artificial color, and the label also lists ECJ as an ingredient when sugar is the common name as required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The court ruled that Werdebaugh had standing to pursue his claims because he relied on the “All Natural” and ECJ listing on the almond milk label, despite that he did not know what ECJ was and he “testified that his purchasing decision would not have been affected by the presence of dried cane syrup.” More information on the class action against Blue Diamond Growers appears in Issue 499 of this Update.
While the court did not rule that listing ECJ constitutes mislabeling, the decision stands in contrast to a recent wave of dismissals in putative class actions as other courts wait for FDA’s determination on whether ECJ is simply sugar. For example, in Gitson v. Clover Stornetta Farms Inc., a California federal court has dismissed claims of ECJ mislabeling without prejudice while it waits for FDA guidance. Gitson v. Clover Stornetta Farms Inc., No. 3:13-cv-1517 (U.S. Dist., N.D. Cal., order entered May 30, 2014). More information on recent ECJ cases appears in Issue 524 of this Update.