Twinings tea ‘antioxidant’ court row brews on in USA

By Ben BOUCKLEY contact

- Last updated on GMT

Picture Copyright: Seth Anderson/Flickr
Picture Copyright: Seth Anderson/Flickr

Related tags: Green tea, Tea

A US court says a class action alleging that Associated British Foods (ABF) brand Twinings broke the law by labeling green, black and white teas as a ‘natural source of antioxidants’ may proceed.

However, in the latest twist in a drawn-out court saga, on May 23 2013 the parties agreed to mediation (with a view to potentially settling the dispute) within 90 days of Twinings filing a recent motion to dismiss the suit.

Nancy Lanovas filed a class action against Twinings North America on May 23 last year, claiming that the brand’s website made unlawful claims (under Federal rules incorporated into Californian state law) relating to antioxidant and nutrient content of teas, linked to its global marketing strategy.

‘Expressly condemned’ health claims alleged

Lanovas, whose claims arise from buying green and black tea, also alleged that Twinings’ website (it is the world’s second largest tea brand) made health claims “expressly condemned”​ by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) via enforcement actions and warning letters.

In addition – and while claiming she would not have bought Twinings teas for a premium but for the claims – Lanovas alleged that the nutrient content claim made on packs, that Twinings Green Tea (for instance) is a ‘natural source of antioxidants’, was also unlawful.

US district judge Ronald Whyte wrote in a May 23 2013 order: “The court dismisses all claims related to Twinings’ red tea, but the claims based upon the ‘natural source of antioxidants’ label appearing on green, black and white teas that Lanovas did not purchase may proceed.”

Whyte, in the US District Court, Northern District of California, San Jose Division, struck some (but not all of the) references made by Lavonas to the website that her original complaint did not allege she read and relied upon, and ordered her to file an amended complaint by June 24.

Lanovas still has standing to sue…

Whyte’s order relates to Twinings’ recent motion to dismiss and strike, which centred on whether (1) Lanovas could modify her claim to bring it in relation to products she did not actually buy, and (2) whether she placed adequate reliance on specific statements on Twinings’ website.

Lanovas is claiming damages and injunctive relief on both her own behalf and that of tea purchasers.

She has also modified her original complaint to add numerous products that she did not buy, but which have the same label as other products that she did.

“Because the claims for 51 of the varieties of tea are based upon the exact same label describing the same product, camellia sinensis, the court finds that Lanovas has standing to sue on behalf on behalf of the purchasers of these teas and thus denies Twinings’ motion with respect to these products, ​Whyte wrote.

But red tea was made from a different plant and was a significantly different product, the judge added, striking Lanovas’ claims relating to two varieties of red tea.

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