- Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc., will pay $5.4 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed in 2017 alleging it labeled some juice products as containing no artificial flavors when they actually did, Reuters reported. The company's CranApple juice contains DL-malic acid derived from petrochemicals, and its CranGrape drink contains fumaric acid synthesized from petrochemical feedstocks, according to The National Law Review.
- The proposed settlement was filed Nov. 8 in federal court in San Diego and is awaiting approval by U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, Reuters said. If that occurs, the Massachusetts-based marketing cooperative will stop using the "no artificial flavors" label claim on its CranApple and CranGrape products within a year of the final approval effective date.
- The settlement class comprises anyone who purchased certain Ocean Spray products for personal or household use between Jan. 1, 2011, until the preliminary approval date of the settlement. Authorized claimants would receive $1 per bottle of any size purchased, up to 20 bottles per household.
This dispute — Hilsley v. Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc. — has so far been a two-year legal battle, but without a negotiated settlement, it's possible it may have dragged on. "If approved, the settlement will bring an end to what has been, and likely would continue to be, highly contentious and costly litigation centered upon unsettled legal questions," the proposed settlement states.
According to The National Law Review, the lawsuit centered on whether malic and fumaric acids function and qualify as artificial flavors in Ocean Spray's juice products. In hearings, the company argued the ingredients are used to control pH and acidity levels and not to flavor its products. However, the plaintiff said malic acid can be used as a flavor or flavor enhancer, and that a low level of synthetic malic acid and fumaric acid in the drink would function as a flavor.
Ocean Spray is not the only beverage manufacturer to face such claims. Bai Brands was hit by a lawsuit last year alleging its use of a synthetic form of malic acid requires its product to be labeled as "artificially flavored." Attorney Ronald Marron's California law firm, which represented the plaintiff in that case, has also sued Kellogg's Pringles chips, PepsiCo's Frito-Lay, Sunny Delight and Campbell Soup's V8 Splash on similar grounds.
The Bai Brands case was partially dismissed last March, but the court said it and parent Dr Pepper Snapple Group — now Keurig Dr Pepper — still need to respond to claims that product labels stating the beverages contained "no artificial flavors" and were "naturally flavored" are false and misleading.
Malic acid occurs naturally in some fruits, including apples, watermelon and pears, but the kind Bai Brands uses is manufactured synthetically. Fumaric acid is commonly used in foods and beverages as an acidulant and to adjust pH, enhance flavor and extend shelf life by controlling microorganism growth, according to IHS Markit.
Given the lawsuits over these two ingredients, their use could become more limited, or manufacturers may decide to seek out natural ingredients to perform those functions. That latter would align with growing consumer demand for fewer artificial ingredients in their foods and beverages, one reason why clean labels are doing so well. The segment is projected to reach $47.1 billion by 2022, which would be a 6.6% increase in the compound annual growth rate.