In the fight against America’s “obesity epidemic,” more food companies are re-thinking how they create and market products to help shrink seemingly ever-expanding waistlines. The label “natural” lines the shelves of supermarkets, bracing the labels of some perceivably not-so-natural foods like potato chips and jars of peanut butter.
But how “natural” is the “natural” label? It might be a bit more misleading than you think. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration admits it doesn't even have a hard-and-fast definition on what the term means. The agency also doesn't object to a product being labeled as such, so long as “the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”
However, some consumers just aren’t buying that “all-natural” claim, and there have already been many notable court cases to prove it. Here's a roundup of five recent lawsuits forcing food producers to cough up cash and remove labels after products didn't live up to their farm-to-store promise.
Kellogg-owned Kashi, which specializes in healthy breakfast cereals, snacks, and waffles, agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit this month after it was found that a variety of products are made with synthetic ingredients. The company agreed to pay $5 million and will stop using the “all-natural” and “nothing artificial” label on certain products, one it has been touting since Kashi’s inception. In a statement, the company said it “stood by their marketing and labeling practices.”
The makers of granola, breakfast and protein bars, owned by General Mills, is staring down a lawsuit over their labeling after a judge refused to have the case dismissed.
“The front of the Nature Valley products packaging prominently displays the term ‘100 percent natural’ that could lead a reasonable consumer to believe that the products contain only natural ingredients," said Judge William Orrick, "which appears false because they allegedly contain GMOs and other synthetic ingredients.”
General Mills has said it stands by the “all-natural” labels it places on its bars.
The company that produces popped potato, tortilla, and corn chips claiming to “have all the flavor and half the fat of fried chips,” also decided to settle a lawsuit when it was taken to court. PopChips came on the scene in 2007, promoting a healthier chip that uses heat and pressure to cook instead of the typical frying or baking.
The Kansas City-based company agreed to stop putting “all-natural” on chip bags, and additionally set up a $2.4 million fund to compensate previous, potentially misled consumers in amounts up to $20. To replace the “all-natural” label, the chips will instead be referred to as “naturally delicious” or made with “natural flavors.”
The fruit juice that developed a loyal following for using “only the freshest, purest stuff in the world,” isn’t quite as pure as it originally claimed. In 2013, PepsiCo settled a $9 million class action lawsuit by agreeing to no longer use phrases alleging how “pure” and “all-natural” Naked juices are. The plaintiff in the case argued that the juice actually contains GMOs and synthetic ingredients, including zinc oxide, ascorbic acid, and calcium pantothenate.
Tropicana Orange Juice
For years, Tropicana’s marketing tactic was to show its products were so fresh they were practically straight from the grove. Turns out, that’s not the best maneuver when your products contain synthetic materials. In about 20 lawsuits that sprung up across the country, plaintiffs claim that the O.J. “undergoes extensive processing which includes the addition of aromas and flavors” in order to extend shelf life. Tropicana tried to have the cases dismissed, a move that was denied last June.
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