Natural foods have been popular for years, but from unwanted and even dangerous ingredients to deceptive labels and foodborne illnesses, food companies have faced numerous lawsuits that not only threaten to change the food they market but also the way they do business.
According to one CBS News report, while the growth of so-called natural products is expected to reach $252 billion in 2019, there have also been at least 300 lawsuits over the misuse of the word “natural” on food labels in the past three years. Companies accused of mislabeling food are increasingly finding out that consumers feel cheated – particularly when they pay a little more for a product that is natural when in fact it isn’t – and are willing to fight back – in court. Here are some noteworthy examples:
Fridays Accused of Selling Fake Potato Skin Chips The restaurant chain TGI Fridays is being sued for $5 million for selling potato skin chips that aren’t skins at all, but instead “potato flakes.” The New York plaintiff in the case alleges that she was injured when she paid money for a product that did not deliver what it promised.
‘Natural’ Water with a Hint of Insecticide? In October 2018, National Beverage Corp., the parent company of LaCroix sparkling water, was hit with a class-action lawsuit filed in Cook County, Illinois, claiming the company mislabels its water as “all natural” or “100% natural” when in reality it is filled with a variety of synthetic combinations including ethyl butanoate, limonene and linalool, an ingredient that is also in cockroach insecticide. LaCroix is denying the allegations and said in a statement that the flavors come from “natural essence oils from the named fruit used in each of the flavors.”
Weed Killer Found in ‘Wholesome’ Cereal A 2019 lawsuit filed against General Mills claims that many of the company’s products, including Cheerios Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal and Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bars, fail to live up to the “nutritious” and “wholesome” claims made by the company, and alleges that the products actually contain potentially unsafe amounts of the weed killer glyphosate.
Suit Says Poland Spring Dried Up Years Ago According to a lawsuit filed last month against Nestlé Waters, “Not one drop” of Poland Spring water actually qualifies as spring water, despite the fact that the water has become “the dominant brand in a market in which it does not even belong.” The suit contends that the claimed source of the water, the famous Poland Spring in Maine, actually ran dry nearly 50 years ago.
Ghirardelli Settles White Chocolate Chip Suit A little over two years ago, Ghirardelli, a well-known chocolate company, settled a class action lawsuit that alleged that the company’s white chocolate baking chips, advertised as “Premium Baking Chips – Classic White,” actually contained no white chocolate at all. While the company maintains its innocence, a federal judge approved the settlement, which will affect anyone in the U.S. who bought mislabeled Ghirardelli products between 2008 and 2014.
Cargill Subject of Lawsuits Alleging Misleading Advertising Related to Truvia In 2017, a class-action complaint was filed in Hawaii alleging that Cargill Inc., the maker of Truvia sweetener, is misleading consumers by marketing the product as natural, despite the fact that it contains Reb-A steviol glycosides that are highly processed and erythritol, a bulking agent that is synthetically made. Four years earlier, Cargill settled a similar class action lawsuit also claiming that Truvia was mislabeled. At that time, the company agreed to change the labels of the product, adding an asterisk to its “Nature’s calorie-free sweetener” or modifying it to say “Calorie-free sweetener from the stevia leaf.”
Will FDA Finally Weigh in on Use of Term ‘Natural’ in Food Labeling? Despite increasing concern (and lawsuits) concerning claims on food products, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has largely avoided defining the words “natural” and “healthy” for many years, although last year, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said he was ready to update the rather vague one the agency has been relying on for decades, according to a New Food Economy report. Since the agency has received approximately 7,600 comments regarding an official definition of the term “natural,” the time may have finally come.