Kraft in legal hot water over 'natural cheese' and 'all-natural' Capri Sun

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Does the term 'natural cheese' refer specifically to the process, or is it a proxy for saying the entire product is 'natural'?
Does the term 'natural cheese' refer specifically to the process, or is it a proxy for saying the entire product is 'natural'?

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Kraft Foods Group has come under renewed fire over ‘natural’ claims this month, with a judge certifying a false advertising lawsuit over its ‘natural cheese’ and a plaintiff filing a new lawsuit alleging Capri Sun 100% juice is not ‘all natural’ as it contains citric acid from genetically engineered crops.

In the ‘natural cheese’ case*, filed in the Central District of California, plaintiff Claudia Morales alleged that Kraft’s use of the term ‘natural cheese’ to market and sell its shredded fat free cheddar was misleading as the product contained artificial coloring.

Plaintiff: ‘Natural cheese’ should not contain artificial coloring

In its defense, Kraft argued that consumers did not interpret this to mean that the product did not contain any​ artificial ingredients, but instead assumed this referred to “the process by which the cheese is made”, ​noting that many other companies also sell products labeled ‘natural cheese’ as a descriptor for a type of cheese (to differentiate it from 'processed cheese').

Meanwhile, Kraft’s internal studies suggested that most consumers bought the product because it was fat free and were loyal to the brand, not because of the ‘natural cheese’ claim, argued the firm.

However, in a June 23 order, US district court judge John Kronstadt was not persuaded, adding: “Plaintiffs are not required to demonstrate that each class member detrimentally relied on Kraft’s use of the term ‘natural cheese’…. Instead, they must show that Plaintiffs themselves relied on the use of the term and that a reasonable consumer would have done the same​… [Therefore] certification is appropriate.”

However, he limited the class to “those consumers that were misled by Kraft’s use of the term 'natural cheese', and made purchasing decisions due to that deception and not for other reasons.”

Plaintiff: The citric acid in Capri Sun is not natural

In the Capri Sun case**, filed on June 12 in the Northern District of California, plaintiff Yuri Osborne alleged that Kraft had “unlawfully, negligently, fraudulently, unfairly, misleadingly, and/or deceptively”​ described Capri Sun 100% Juice beverages as ‘all natural’ when in fact they contained “unnatural, synthetic, artificial, and/or genetically modified ingredient(s), including but not limited to citric acid and/or natural flavor.”

“Simply put,” ​he claimed, “the products are not ‘all natural’ because they contain unnatural ingredients.”

While citric acid – which is used as a preservative in hundreds of products - occurs naturally in citrus fruits, it is typically made commercially by fermenting glucose from corn or sugar beet, said Osborne, who is represented by law firm Eggnatz, Lopatin & Pascucci LLP, which filed a similar case vs Unilever and PepsiCo in late April over citric acid in Pure Leaf Tea.

And unless firms specifically used non-GMO sugar beet or corn, the likelihood was that these ingredients had been genetically engineered, he alleged: “The process of making this citric acid utilizes genetically engineered sugar beets and genetically engineered maize.”

FDA has referenced citric acid in some warning letters over ‘natural’ claims

He also referenced an oft-cited FDA warning letter to the Hirzel Canning Company in 2001 noting that the addition of calcium chloride and citric acid to its canned tomatoes “preclude use of the term ‘natural’ to describe” ​the products in question.

Kraft Food Group told FoodNavigator-USA it could not comment on whether it was now looking to settle the 'natural cheese' case to avoid the cost and risk of protracted litigation, adding: "Unfortunately, we do not comment on pending litigation."

Read more about 'natural' claims HERE​.

Read our industry vox pop on natural claims HERE​. 

* Claudia Morales et al v Kraft Foods Group Inc et al. Case No. 2:14-cv-04387, central district of California.

**Yuri Osborne et al v  Kraft Foods Group Inc. Case No. 3:15-cv-02653, northern district of California.

Class action lawsuits, and how to avoid being targeted in them, is a hot topic at Food Vision USA​ in Chicago this October. Get full details HERE​ ​or click on the link below: 


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