Companies advertising their food products as “all natural” to health-conscious consumers won a victory when two California federal judges held that labels describing food products as “all natural” were meant to describe the contents of the products and did not warrant the products’ quality.

Class Action Trimmed

On July 23, 2012, a California federal judge trimmed some claims from a proposed class action alleging Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream Inc. falsely labels its products as “all natural,” deciding product descriptions do not constitute warranties against a product defect.  See Astiana v. Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream Inc., Case No. 3:11-cv-02910 (N.D. Cal., Jul. 20, 2012).  See Dreyer’s Order.

The plaintiffs alleged Dreyer’s violated a written warranty under the MagnusonMoss Warranty Act.  They said that by using the “All Natural Flavors” and “All Natural Ice Cream” labels, Dreyer’s “promised that the ingredients in the products, including the flavor ingredients, were free of a particular type of defect (i.e., that they were not synthetic or artificial).”

U.S. District Judge Edward M. Chen agreed with Dreyer’s that the federal claim should be dismissed because a claim that a food is “natural” does not give any assurance that it is defect-free.

“In other words, just because a food contains artificial and/or synthetic ingredients, that does not make it defective. According to [Dreyer’s], the word ‘natural’ is just used to describe the food,” Judge Chen wrote in the order dismissing the federal claim.

Judge Nixes Warranty and Fraud Claims

This ruling follows a pair of recent decisions by U.S. District Judge Marilyn Huff nixing breach of warranty and fraud claims from two false advertising class action suits targeting KashiCo. and Bear Naked Inc. over allegedly deceptive “all natural” labeling.

In Bates v. Kashi et al., No. 3:11-cv-01967 (S.D. Cal. July 17, 2012) the plaintiffs had argued that many of Kashi’s “all natural” products contain at least one artificial or synthetic ingredient, while some contain as many as seven.  SeeBates Order.

Similarly, in Thurston et al. v. Bear Naked Inc., Civ. No. 3:11-cv-02890 (S.D. Cal. July 17, 2012), the plaintiffs alleged that Bear Naked labeled its line of granolas, granola bars, cereals, trail mixes and cookies, as completely natural although they contained certain ingredients considered synthetic under federal regulations. See Thurston Order.

“All Natural” Labels Describe Contents

Judge Huff ruled that the “all natural” labels on the Kashi and Bear Naked food products were meant to describe the contents of the products and did not necessarily offer warranties. “The court concludes that the phrases are product information disclosures, not written warranties,” Judge Huff said in two separate orders of dismissal.

The cases are Astiana v. Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream Inc., Case No. 3:11-cv-02910 (N.D. Cal.); Bates v. Kashi et al., Case No. 3:11-cv-01967 (S.D. Cal.); and Thurston et al. v. Bear Naked Inc., Case No. 3:11-cv-02890 (S.D. Cal.).

This article was prepared by Kathy Grant ( / 210 270 7283) of Fulbright’s False Advertising Practice.