General Mills’ snack settlement shot down over collusion concerns

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

General Mills’ snack settlement shot down over collusion concerns

Related tags General mills Fruit snacks artificial flavours Label dl-malic acid

A California federal judge has rejected a proposed deal to resolve a class action against General Mills, stating the plaintiffs’ lawyers would be the only ones to benefit from the settlement.

Crystal Hilsley, Adrienne Morris and other Californian residents filed a suit against the food conglomerate in the California federal courts on 4 June 2021, alleging its fruit snacks contain dl-malic acid, despite the ‘No Artificial Flavours’ claim made on the label.

DL-malic acid is a synthetic ingredient that contributes a tart note to the snacks. Although malic acid can occur in fruit, it is generally a synthetic form that is used in commercial food products.

Under the settlement proposal, General Mills agreed to add an asterisk next to the ‘No Artificial Flavours’ claim, directing consumers to the company’s website. The site details additional information about snack’s ingredients, for example, that they may contain synthetic malic acid.

The company also agreed not to oppose the fee requested by the plaintiffs’ lawyers for the legal work conducted, including investigating and drafting an initial complaint, defending a motion to dismiss, written discovery without depositions and settlement negotiations.

However, Judge M. James Lorenz shot down the deal.

He called the $725,000 fee as ‘excessive on its face’ and said the settlement abandoned the plaintiff’s request for monetary relief. On the other hand, it presented a major payout to its attorneys.

Judge Lorenz also noted the proposed agreement was miles apart from the case involving Ferrara Candy Company, maker of SweeTarts, which in June 2020 agreed to stop saying the iconic candy contain no artificial flavourings when they contain dl-malic acid.

The agreed label change markedly differed, along with the $272,000 attorneys’ fee.

The case is Hilsley v. General Mills, Inc., S.D. Cal., No. 3:18-cv-00395, 6/4/21.​ The Elliott Law Firm and the Law Offices of Ronald A. Marron represented Hilsley; Todd M. Friedman PC represented Hayes; and Perkins Coie LLP represented General Mills.

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