- A California appeals court has stayed a class action lawsuit against Chobani in which plaintiffs accused the company of mislabeling products with "natural" and "evaporated cane juice." Proceedings are halted until the outcome of the FDA's review of the two terms.
- The plaintiffs alleged that Chobani could not label its products as "natural" due to color additives that may not qualify as "natural" and that Chobani used the term "evaporated cane juice" to hide the sugar the product contains.
- The move to stay this case per the FDA's proceedings could impact a number of other cases involving usage of "natural" and "evaporated cane juice" on product labels.
"Natural" lawsuits have been piling up in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco, which stayed Chobani's case, and elsewhere in recent years. The FDA has finally begun the process of establishing a more official rule to define the labeling term, but the agency is still only in the comment collection phase. The comment period doesn't end until May 10, per a 90-day extension granted in January.
This may also slow the frequency of new "natural" cases being brought to the Ninth Circuit until the FDA comes to a final decision.
Conversely, the Ninth Circuit's decision could put pressure on the FDA to move forward with its "natural" guidance more quickly once the comment period is over. The Ninth Circuit noted that the District Court could lift the stay if the agency's decisions about the terms were not "imminent."
Chobani's involvement in this "natural" cause is notable because the company is tied up in related but very different litigation with rival General Mills. General Mills sued Chobani earlier this year over an aggressive advertising campaign that called out General Mills' Yoplait Greek yogurt for not using "natural" ingredients.
Chobani's "natural" class action stretches back to 2012.
The "evaporated cane juice" term is more clear-cut. The FDA already told a federal court that the agency expects to release final guidance for the term by the end of this year.