Hain Celestial all-natural lawsuit to proceed: ‘One does not have to suspend reality’ to understand why plaintiff felt misled, says judge

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Judge: 'The court cannot find as a matter of law that an accurate ingredient list excuses other allegedly misleading statements on a product’s label.'
Judge: 'The court cannot find as a matter of law that an accurate ingredient list excuses other allegedly misleading statements on a product’s label.'

Related tags Pleading

A California federal judge has given the green light to a false advertising lawsuit filed against Hain Celestial accusing it of misleading shoppers by describing its Sunflower Dream beverage and related products as ‘all-natural’ when they contained “artificial, synthetic or extensively processed” ingredients.

The lawsuit*, first filed in November 2013, then amended in November 2014, alleges that Hain “unlawfully misbranded and falsely, misleadingly and deceptively​” described the offending beverages as “all natural​” when, in fact, they contained the “artificial or synthetic ingredients: Tricalcium Phosphate, Xanthan Gum, Vitamin A Palmitate, Folic Acid, and Vitamins D2”.

A reasonable consumer “would expect that a product labeled ‘All Natural’ does not contain any artificial, synthetic or extensively processed ingredients​”, alleged Anderson, who seeks to represent a class of “all persons in the United States​” who bought the sunflower drink plus other selected ‘Dream’ drinks labeled as ‘All Natural’** containing the disputed ingredients after November 4, 2009.

Hain Celestial: Multiple courts have dismissed ‘all natural’ claims at the pleading stage

In its motion to dismiss, Hain argued that Anderson had failed to define what a reasonable consumer would consider to be natural, and was “late to the game​” when it comes to filing all-natural lawsuits. Moreover, “multiple courts— including this one—have dismissed ‘all natural’ claims at the pleading stage where plaintiffs fail to show plausibility, specificity, or Article III standing​,” observed the firm.

It also argued that the ingredients list on all of its Dream branded non-dairy beverages “accurately states everything contained in the products”​ and that “no reasonable consumer interested in their food’s ingredients would ignore this list.”

Judge: It is not clear that the term ‘all-natural’ only refers to one ingredient (sunflower seeds)

However, US district judge Edward J Davila was not persuaded by most of these arguments in his May 8 order on Hain’s motion.

all natural label

While he granted Hain’s request to dismiss the request for injunctive relief (meaning Hain will not be obliged to change its labels), he said Anderson had in fact made plausible allegations and also had standing to assert claims for eight products she didn’t buy.

Meanwhile, Hain’s assertion that its use of the term ‘all-natural’ referred exclusively to sunflower seeds and not to the beverage as a whole was not persuasive, he added.

He added: “One does not have to suspend reality to understand what Plaintiff apparently concluded after examining the Sunflower Dream Drink: that a product bearing the unqualified statement ‘All Natural’ does not include any unnatural ingredients.”

Consumers should not have to check the small print…

Despite Hain’s contention that any consumer as concerned as Anderson was about ‘natural’ ingredients would have looked carefully at the ingredients list before deciding to purchase the product in question, consumers should not have to play detective, argued Davila.

Euromonitor shopping
Consumers should not have to scrutinize the ingredients list to 'discover the truth' about a product, said judge Edward Davila

“The Ninth Circuit… has recognized that a reasonable consumer is not ‘expected to look beyond misleading misrepresentations on the front of the box to discover the truth from the ingredient list in small print on the side of the box’.

“Thus, at least on a motion to dismiss, the court cannot find as a matter of law that an accurate ingredient list excuses other allegedly misleading statements on a product’s label.”

*The case is: Barbara Anderson et al vs The Hain Celestial Group, Inc 5:14-cv-03895. It was first filed in the Central District of California in November 2013 and transferred to the Northern District in August 2014.

** Other products cited in the case include Almond Dream and Coconut Dream beverages.

Related topics Regulation & safety Soft drinks

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