In recent consumer class action news, two complaints were filed against ConAgra Foods alleging that the company deceptively marketed its cooking oils as “100% Natural,” while Kellogg’s settled a suit over false advertising of its Rice Krispies and Cocoa Krispies cereals.
Plaintiffs in California and New York filed suit against ConAgra just days apart, making identical allegations that the company is deceiving consumers by claiming its four types of cooking oils are “100% Natural” even though the oils are made from genetically modified plants or organisms.
Genetically modified organisms are “‘unnatural’ by definition,” according to the New York complaint filed by plaintiff Kelly McFadden, “engineered by the cross-breeding of seeds to allow for greater yield and resistance to pesticides.”
“The reasonable consumer assumes that seeds created by exchanging genetic material between different species to exhibit traits not naturally theirs are not ‘100% natural,’” according to the complaint. ConAgra also marketed its oils to “evoke wholesomeness and health,” using the image of the sun around the Wesson name, the plaintiff alleged.
The suit seeks to certify a class of New York purchasers of Wesson’s canola oil, vegetable oil, corn oil, and best blend products, asking for a halt to use of the allegedly deceptive claims as well as compensatory and punitive damages.
The California suit makes similar allegations.
“Plaintiff paid for a 100% natural product, but did not receive a product that was 100% natural. Plaintiff received a product that was genetically engineered in a laboratory, and had its genetic code artificially altered to exhibit not ‘natural’ qualities,” according to the complaint filed in California federal court by Robert Briseno.
Briseno’s suit seeks similar injunctive and pecuniary relief for a nationwide class of plaintiffs.
In other class action news, Kellogg’s agreed to pay $2.5 million to fund a settlement for repayment to class members who alleged the company falsely advertised its Rice Krispies and Cocoa Krispies cereals as supporting the immune system even though the company lacked scientific evidence for the claims.
Plaintiffs can receive $5 per box purchased during the relevant time period – without proof of purchase – for up to three boxes per household.
Last June, Kellogg’s settled with the Federal Trade Commission over similar charges, agreeing to advertising restrictions related to health benefits about its food products. The agreement updated a July 2009 consent order relating to claims that its Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal was “clinically shown to improve kids’ attentiveness by nearly 20%.”
Under the expanded order, Kellogg’s can no longer make claims for Rice Krispies that the cereal “now helps support your child’s immunity,” and was prohibited from making claims about any health benefit of any food unless its claims were backed by scientific evidence and not misleading.
To read the complaint in McFadden v. ConAgra, click here.
To read the complaint in Briseno v. ConAgra, click here.
To read the settlement agreement in Weeks v. Kellogg Co., click here.
Why it matters: Both the ConAgra lawsuits and the Kellogg’s settlement are examples of common issues in advertising class actions. Health claims have received close scrutiny recently, as demonstrated by Kellogg’s multiple actions with the Federal Trade Commission. And a number of other lawsuits have been filed alleging that “natural” products are no such thing, including those against Ben & Jerry’s for its use of the phrase “All Natural” on its ice cream and frozen yogurt packaging as well as against Snapple, for labeling its drinks “All Natural” when they contained high‑fructose corn syrup.