General Mills has lost its motion to dismiss a lawsuit that claims the company deceived consumers about the fruit content of its Fruit Roll-Ups and Fruit by the Foot.
Consumer Annie Lam filed the complaint in a Californian district court and has sought class action status, alleging that the products’ packaging misleads consumers into believing that the fruit-flavored snacks are healthful.
In particular, the packaging states that strawberry-flavored Fruit Roll-Ups are “made with real fruit”, which Lam alleges "incorrectly describes the ingredients, which include partially hydrogenated oil, sugars in quantities amounting to approximately half of each serving, and 'pears from concentrate' rather than the fruit indicated by the name of the product."
According to court documents, General Mills argues that the statement "made with real fruit" is objectively true and that a reasonable consumer would not interpret it to mean that there are particular fruits or quantities of fruit in a product.
Ingredients in General Mills’ strawberry-flavored Fruit Roll-Ups in descending order according to amount: Pears from Concentrate, Corn Syrup, Dried Corn Syrup, Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, Citric Acid, Acetylated Monoglycerides, Fruit Pectin, Dextrose, Malic Acid, Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), Natural Flavor, Color (red 40, yellows 5 & 6, blue 1).
However, the court agreed with Lam that a reasonable consumer might indeed make this kind of assumption, based on this statement and others on-pack.
“Taken together, these statements might lead a reasonable consumer to believe that product is made with real strawberries, not pears from concentrate,” the court document reads.
The court also notes that under FDA regulations, manufacturers may label a product as "natural strawberry flavored," even if that product contains no strawberries.
“While the regulation's logic is troubling, the Court is bound to apply it,” the document says. “…So long as that product "contains natural flavor" which is "derived from" the "characterizing food ingredient," it will not run afoul of the regulation.”
The case is just the latest in a rash of lawsuits claiming that food manufacturers have misled consumers into thinking that their products are more healthful than they are. Late last month, Ferrero settled a class action lawsuit over its advertising of Nutella for $3m, and agreed to change the product’s labeling and advertising, while other companies have been targeted for “false and deceptive nutrient content claims.”