California Federal Judge Rules that Westbrae Natural’s Label Does Not Imply Vanilla Soymilk’s Flavoring Derives Solely from Vanilla Bean
On December 1, 2020, the United States District Court Northern District of California granted Westbrae Natural, Inc.’s (“Defendant”) motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s lawsuit. In the complaint, the plaintiff alleged that the use of the word “vanilla” on the label of Defendant’s organic unsweetened vanilla soymilk misrepresents to consumers that the soymilk’s vanilla flavor is derived exclusively from the vanilla bean plant. The plaintiff also claimed that the soymilk is made with no or negligible amounts of natural vanilla and should be labeled “artificially flavored.”
In the motion to dismiss, Defendant argued that the plaintiff failed to allege that a reasonable consumer would be deceived by the “vanilla” label into believing that the soymilk’s vanilla flavor is derived exclusively from the vanilla bean. The court agreed with the Defendant and stated that the “label does not contain any other words or pictures that suggest the vanilla flavor is derived exclusively from the vanilla bean.”
As support for his allegations, the plaintiff presented a 2020 survey in the complaint, which allegedly showed that 69.5% of 400 consumers believed that the “vanilla” representation on the label meant that the soymilk’s flavor comes exclusively from the vanilla bean. The court stated that the results of the 2020 survey do not make plaintiff’s claims plausible and that a survey, alone, does not satisfy the reasonable consumer test. The court gave plaintiff 20 days to refile his complaint to address its shortcomings.
This lawsuit follows several lawsuits filed in 2020 where plaintiffs accused businesses of misrepresenting the vanilla flavoring in multiple food and beverage products. We will continue to monitor any developments.