California resident Noelle Major had argued that adding fruit juice from concentrate to Ocean Spray drinks such as 100% Juice Cranberry & Pomegranate and labeling them as ‘no sugar added’ violated the laws of her state.
She filed her second motion for class certification in November 2013, with her attorneys alleging that Ocean Spray’s 100% juices violated California state law since they used the ‘No Sugar Added’ claim without an on-pack caveat that the drinks were not ‘low calorie’ or ‘calorie reduced’.
Claimant did not rely on ‘no sugar added claim’ in buying juice
For its part, Ocean Spray argued that the plaintiff had not relied on the ‘No Sugar Added’ claim when she bought its products, and filed a motion for partial summary judgement on January 3 2014.
Ocean Spray argued, and US district judge Edward Davila agreed (sitting in the US District Court, Northern District of California, San Jose Division) in a February 26 order on Case No. 5:12-cv-03067-EJD, that Major correctly understood that the brand’s 100% juice products were not low calorie.
Therefore, she could not thus show she relied on the ‘No Sugar Added’ claim to buy Ocean Spray juices, while she also admitted that calorie content had not been a purchase driver.
Moreover, Ocean’s Spray’s ‘No Sugar Added’ claim was factually accurate, the judge agreed, noting that when the brand asked Major what the phrase meant to her, she replied: “That there’s literally nothing containing sugar that’s added to this other than the natural sugar from the fruit.”
Judge Davila agreed with Ocean Spray that Major’s understanding of the claim was, in his words, “entirely accurate and contradicts her own legal theory”.
Ocean Spray food scientist draws vital distinction
The judge cited case testimony from Ocean Spray food scientist, Kathryn Kaufman, who said that fruit juices from concentrate (as per the brand’s products, and not higher sugar fruit juice concentrate) have the same ratio of water to sugar solids and other compounds as natural juice.
This distinction was vital in the current case, as Major had argued that Ocean Spray was in breach of a clause in the California Health & Safety Code outlawing use of a ‘No Sugar Added’ message on foods “containing added sugars such as jam, jelly, or concentrated fruit juice”.
“The defendant’s labels at issue all contain an ingredient list which clearly discloses that the 100% Juice products ‘contain various juices from concentrate’,” Judge Davila said, noting that fruit juices from concentrate did not fall within the ambit of § 10160(c)(2)(ii) in the California code cited above.
“Accordingly, the evidence produced by defendant supports its contention that the ‘no sugar added’ message was properly applied to its products,” he added.
“Since the undisputed evidence establishes that defendant’s 100% Juice products, made with juice from concentrate, contain the same amount of sugar that would have existed naturally, the products cannot be said to contain ‘added sugars’,” Judge Davila said.
Decision reflects 2014 Mott’s Apple Juice case – Steven Shapiro
Asked how significant he thought the case was, Steven Shapiro, a food and drug attorney at New York-based Ullman, Shapiro & Ullman LLP told BeverageDaily.com: “The bottom line is that the Ocean Spray Judge reached the correct conclusion based on long-standing FDA policy.
“The discussion regarding ‘fruit juice concentrate’ and ‘fruit juice from concentrate’ is just a somewhat unique way of stating it.”
“There was a decision in January 2014 concerning Mott’s Apple Juice that reaches the same conclusion… citing a 1993 FDA Federal Register notice,” Shapiro added.
“Basically, if I add apple juice concentrate to a product to sweeten it, that is one thing; but if the product is apple juice and the concentrate is added (I assume in conjunction with water) to get ‘regular’ apple juice then the concentrate is not intended or used as a sweetener,” he said.