The plaintiff’s attorney said these snacks are little more than “flavored pieces of flour and sugar", but Nestlé says the claims are '"frivolous".
The complaint, filed against Gerber Products Company and its parent company Nestle USA, Inc. on behalf of a plaintiff group led by Michelle Gyorke-Takatri and Karie Silver, claims that Gerber markets Graduates Puffs “as though they contain significant amounts of fruits and vegetables vibrantly displayed on its packaging, when in fact Gerber Graduates Puffs contain only trace amounts of those ingredients, or none at all.”
Download the full PDF of the complaint below.
Gerber Graduates Complaint (filed 071515)Gerber Graduates Complaint (filed 071515).pdf 3.01 MB
Parents trust Gerber due to its reputation and packaging, the complaint claims, but what parents and children have received instead are “empty calories” from the company.
Nestlé: Lawsuit without merit
Nestlé said in a statement: “Gerber considers this lawsuit frivolous and without merit. Gerber Puffs are cereal snacks specifically developed for babies and toddler`s developmental and nutrition needs. They are a nutritious snack made with whole grains, vitamins and minerals.”
Nestlé said it was compliant with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations and was committed to transparent labeling.
“The Gerber Puffs are clearly labelled as cereal snacks, with the applicable flavor variety name.”
The company said it will defend the lawsuit.
Gerber’s website said the Graduates Puffs contain 2 g of whole grains per serving, as well as eight vitamins and minerals “to help support healthy growth and development.” The nutritional information for the Strawberry Apple flavor lists the top ingredients as rice flour, whole wheat flour, wheat starch, sugar, whole grain oat flour, and dried apple puree, among other ingredients.
These snacks are marketed to a younger audience, as Gerber’s website said Graduates Puffs are just the right size for children just learning to pick up food.
'A cynical marketing practice'
Three firms specializing in consumer advocacy – Stanley Law Group, Bailey & Glasser LLP, and David F. Sugerman – are leading the charge for the plaintiffs in this class-action complaint. Stephen Gardner, head of food law practice at Stanley Law Group, told BakeryandSnacks Gerber is trying to “capture the market they lose when kids go to solid foods.”
“This is the next step,” Gardner said. “There’s nothing wrong with people eating or giving kids this stuff if they know it has no, or virtually no, ingredients [that are fruits or vegetables] … I’m not trying to stop parents from buying it if they know what’s in it. I want to stop Gerber from fooling parents.”
Gardner, who has been practicing deceptive food practices law for more than 30 years, said he believes this way of marketing is “anti-competitive” and “anti-consumer,” as it hurts smaller companies that market healthy snack products as well as the parents looking for said products. He also does not believe these practices are in compliance with federal or state laws regarding consumer deception.
“It’s a cynical marketing practice,” he said, adding that the sweet potato flavor, as an example, merely has sweet potato powder in it. “When you powder anything, it loses the benefits.”
Seeking a refund
The complaint was filed July 14 in the Superior Court of California, San Francisco County. In California, there is a 30 day notice for complaints, Gardner said, adding that they have not yet received a response from Gerber.
As far as what the plaintiffs are seeking in this case, Gardner said he would like his clients to receive damages in the form of refunds for the product or giving up the money he said they have received from “unlawful profits.” In Gardner’s opinion, the company has “tricked” parents into buying something healthy that doesn’t appear to have much nutritional value.
The case is titled Gyorke-Takatri, et al., v. Nestle USA, Inc. and Gerber Products Company.