“Natural” False Advertising Class Action Lawsuit Against Mott’s Dismissed
On October 6, 2020, a California judge dismissed an amended complaint alleging that apple juice and applesauce products sold by Mott’s, LLP (a subsidiary of Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, Inc.) were falsely advertised as “Natural” and/or “All Natural Ingredients” where they contained trace amounts of the acetamiprid, a neonicotinoid pesticide.
The amended complaint was virtually identical to the original complaint (which was dismissed), but for the addition of two generic surveys which Plaintiff alleged demonstrated that consumers did not expect “natural” products to contain trace amounts of pesticides. One 2019 study reported that 68.1% of consumers did not believe that crops sprayed with synthetic pesticides were natural, while a 2015 study reported that 63% of respondents thought that natural labeling meant that “no toxic pesticides were used.”
Relying on precedent dealing with nearly identical issues (even the same two surveys were involved), the Court rejected Plaintiff’s argument and held that the surveys were not enough to demonstrate that a reasonable consumer would believe that a “natural” food product would contain no residual pesticides, even in trace amounts. Specifically, the Court found that the 2019 study was not persuasive because it related to crop production and not food labeling, while the 2015 study did not define important terms like “natural” and “toxic,” and arguably undermined Plaintiff’s claims by suggesting that the term “natural” was “essentially meaningless.”
The case is a part of a continuing trend of litigation targeting “natural” claims even amidst the regulatory uncertainty regarding the use of the term. (In 2015, the FDA solicited comments regarding the use of the term, but has yet to take any action.) Keller and Heckman will continue to monitor and report on “natural” litigation and regulatory efforts to define the term.