- Two men are attempting to file a class action lawsuit against Hain Celestial, the maker of Veggie Straws snacks, according to Law360. The plaintiffs claim the product’s marketing led them to believe the snacks were made of vegetables, including potatoes, tomatoes and spinach.The product's five main ingredients are actually potato starch, potato flour, corn starch, tomato paste and spinach powder.
- The packaging shows pictures of tomatoes, spinach leaves and potatoes, and features terminology like "garden grown" and "ripe." The plaintiffs say these claims are used to make consumers falsely believe they are purchasing a healthy snack.
- "Vegetable Straws contain highly processed byproducts of what were once vegetables, and with respect to tomatoes and spinach, only contain trace amounts of those byproducts upon information and belief," the filing states. According to the case docket, Hain Celestial has not yet responded to the claim.
Litigation against food companies for misleading labeling seems to perpetually appear. For instance, Post has been sued for labeling cereals "natural" because the crops the ingredients came from were treated with synthetic herbicide. And General Mills currently is fighting a lawsuit based on Cheerios Protein, in which plaintiffs claim the packaging's health claims are misleading because the protein-packed cereal actually contains 17 times the sugar of the regular variety.
However, this lawsuit runs over slightly different ground. Would a reasonable consumer believe the crunchy snacks are healthy based on things such as the word "veggie" in the product name and pictures of vegetables? A few similar lawsuits dealing with cereal have been filed, and all were summarily dismissed.
Several lawsuits were filed — many by the same plaintiff — claiming that Kellogg's Froot Loops cereal was deceptive since the name led them to believe the cereal contained fruit. Rulings in these cases were all very similar. Judges said "froot" should not be confused with actual fruit, and the cereal “does not resemble any known fruit.”
Other lawsuits — which were also quickly dismissed — were filed against Quaker Oats' Cap'n Crunch cereals. Consumers sued the manufacturer because the crunchberries variety of the cereal did not contain fruit. In fact, the plaintiff claimed to be unaware that a crunchberry wasn't actually a real fruit.
The judge issued an unequivocal denial.
"This Court is not aware of, nor has Plaintiff alleged the existence of, any actual fruit referred to as a 'crunchberry,' " she wrote. "Furthermore, the 'Crunchberries' depicted on the [box] are round, crunchy, brightly-colored cereal balls, and the [box] clearly states both that the Product contains 'sweetened corn & oat cereal' and that the cereal is 'enlarged to show texture.' Thus, a reasonable consumer would not be deceived into believing that the Product in the instant case contained a fruit that does not exist. . . . So far as this Court has been made aware, there is no such fruit growing in the wild or occurring naturally in any part of the world."
While vegetables are real, and there indeed are pictures and terminology on the package to suggest that Veggie Straws are made from vegetables, it is up to the court to decide if this lawsuit goes forward. Veggie Straws certainly taste and feel more like savory snacks than vegetables, and it would not be surprising if a judge ruled that no reasonable consumer would believe the snack is health food.
A pending lawsuit against PepsiCo's Quaker Oats may provide the closest parallel. The company is being sued because the maple and brown sugar variety of its instant oats has a picture on the package of a pitcher of maple syrup — but the product does not contain it. What happens next with the Quaker Oats lawsuit may set the tone for what may become of the compliant against Veggie Straws.