- RXBAR is the target of a class-action lawsuit that asserts the company's egg white protein powder and apple juice injected fruit should not be labeled simply as "egg whites" and "blueberries" on packaging, according to Food Navigator. Previously the ingredients had been listed as “egg white protein powder” and “dried wild blueberries infused with apple juice concentrate.”
- The complaint, cited by Food Navigator, said consumers "would not be as drawn" to a product for themselves or their children if they knew it contained the presence of ingredients such as a protein powder or sweetening agents like juice concentrate.
- A representative of RXBAR, which is owned by Kellogg, told the publication that: “We stand by our product and packaging.”
As the clean label movement gains momentum, food and beverage manufacturers are taking the "less is more" route for the labels on their packages, as well as for the ingredients they contain.
However, sometimes labeling does not reflect exact ingredients and food manufacturers find themselves toeing the line between truth and questionable claims to sell a product.
For RXBAR, labels omitting ingredient specifics in favor of simple language and easy-to-identify items has raised questions about the authenticity of the bar. It's possible some shoppers would choose a "cleaner" label instead of RXBAR if the company reverted back to its more detailed descriptions.
Consumer research supports such an outcome. According to Innova, 75% of U.S. consumers say they check ingredient labels, and 91% think the ones with recognizable ingredients are better for them. And, in a Nielsen study from 2014, more than 60% said it was important in making purchasing decisions at the store for products to be free from artificial colors and flavors.
Unsurprisingly, watchdogs are eager to bring mislabeled products to the public’s attention. Food labeling litigation has become a growing legal industry in recent years, with more than 425 active cases in federal courts between 2015 and 2016 — a staggering increase from the 19 cases in 2008 — according to a study by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.
Recently, Bai Brands, owned by Dr Pepper Snapple, was the target of a class-action lawsuit claiming that its use of a synthetic form of malic acid means the product should be labeled as "artificially flavored." And Kellogg and PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division were sued over false advertising after a California couple claimed the packaging on Pringles and Lay's Salt and Vinegar chips give the impression that consumers are buying an “all natural” snack instead of one that uses artificial flavors.
This RXBAR lawsuit can be seen as yet another symptom of the growing consumer demand for transparency from manufacturers of foods and beverages about how their products are made. A study last year from Response Media found that nine out of 10 respondents wanted transparency in product ingredients and sources, along with more in-depth information.
As manufacturers walk the line between providing transparency and offering their consumers clean labels, these companies are closely watching recent cases for direction. While some like Safeway canned tuna have been dismissed, others like Kellogg and Frito-Lay are setting precedents about how manufacturers must formulate and label products in the future.
For RXBAR, lawyers told Food Navigator that these claims of mislabeling hold little water and customers are more concerned with overall health, product branding and convenience than whether or not their blueberries are juice-infused. However, a new study from Response Media showed 70% of consumers said their purchases are always or often influenced by transparency content.
Customers care about transparency in their nutrition facts as well as required labeling of GMO ingredients in all products. Still, if current trends are any indication, shoppers find it more appealing when clean labeling is just that: as clean on the inside as it appears on the outside. If the clean label trend keeps gaining momentum, what is considered clean label could change, too, putting increased pressure on food manufacturers to be even more transparent to stand out from their competitors.