California resident Peter Tucker filed the federal class-action lawsuit in July 2019, alleging the breakfast cereal giant had mislead consumers into believing honey was the primary sweetener – or at the very least, a significant sweetener – for this range of cereals.
The suit added the cereals are, in fact, sweetened primarily with sugar, corn syrup and other refined substances, and only contain miniscule amounts of honey.
Action lawsuit upheld
US district judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers shot down the bid by Post to have the case quashed, stating the “prominent honey-related words and imagery” on the packaging could indeed deceive consumers.
She added, “the package depicts a large yellow-orange circle simulating a radiating sun, emblazoned with the words ‘HONEY BUNCHES OF OATS’ and showing a wooden honey dipper dripping honey, and towards the bottom of the package is the outline of a bee trailing a broken line indicating flight.”
Contrary to Post’s assertion, she also found consumers would not necessarily read the nutrition label before purchasing.
“Although the package does not make any objective representations about the amount of honey in the cereal, a reasonable consumer could see the prominent honey-related words and imagery and be deceived into thinking the cereal contained relatively less refined sugar and more honey.
“If so misled, the reasonable consumer is not expected to pick up the product and examine the fine print on the ingredient list.”
Judge Gonzalez Rogers also referenced a survey provided as evidence by Tucker that found 68% of the 400 customers polled thought honey was the primary sweetener. Nearly four-fifths of the respondents believed honey was at least one of the top three ingredients.
She ruled, “Plaintiff’s inability to rely on the honey-related words and images prominently featured on the front and top of the cereal box constitutes an ongoing injury for which plaintiff may seek injunctive relief.”
Second time around
The plaintiff represents a Class of California consumers who have purchased varieties of Honey Bunches of Oats since June 2015, and is seeking monetary damages, attorneys’ fees and court costs.
This is not the first time the Honey Bunches of Oats brand has been sued for this reason. However, in 2018, a Massachusetts federal judge granted Post’s request to dismiss on multiple occasions, eventually killing the suit entirely.
US district judge Allison Burroughs ruled, “Because Honey Bunches of Oats contains honey, the court found, that under relevant regulations, the packaging was not objectively misleading as a matter of law.”
Post Consumer Brands did not respond with comment before publication.
The Honey Bunches of Oats Mislabelling Class Action Lawsuit is Tucker v. Post Consumer Brands LLC, Case No. 4:19-cv-03993-KAW, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California