Vanilla Lawsuit Against Trader Joe’s Dismissed
On June 14, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed without prejudice the first amended complaint in a consumer class action lawsuit against Trader Joe’s over the claim ‘Vanilla Flavored With Other Natural Flavors’ on the product label of the grocery chain’s Vanilla Almond Clusters cereal that the plaintiff alleged derived most of its vanilla flavor from vanillin and ethyl vanillin rather than vanilla bean.
The Court decided in favor of Trader Joe’s on the key issues that (1) Plaintiff’s state law claims are preempted because the label complies with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulations defining when flavors can be described as “natural” and when they must be labeled “artificial,” and (2) Plaintiff has not plausibly alleged that a reasonable consumer would likely be misled by their labeling because no facts were alleged to support that a reasonable consumer could interpret the cereal’s label to mean that the flavor is derived exclusively from the vanilla plant. In keeping with the decisions in numerous other cases, the Court found that use of “Vanilla Flavored” alone does not require a product so-labeled to be flavored exclusively with vanilla and with respect to “With Other Natural Flavors,” specifically found that vanillin is not automatically considered an artificial flavoring under FDA’s regulations as it may be either artificial or natural, depending upon its derivation. With respect to ethyl vanillin, which the Plaintiff alleged was detected in the cereal at a concentration of 6.53 parts per billion by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis, the Court objected to the lack of a control condition in the testing and the absence of information on whether “such an infinitesimal amount is material or significant.” Thus, finding that the first amended complaint, as drafted, does not plausibly allege that a reasonable consumer would be deceived by the product label representations, the Court ruled that the Plaintiff’s statutory claims fail as a matter of law.
We have reported on a variety of vanilla flavoring class action lawsuits, many of which have not survived the motion to dismiss stage. The Court in this case did not speak to the claim by Trader Joe’s in its January 19, 2021 motion to dismiss that this vanilla flavoring lawsuit is one of 110 filed by the plaintiff’s counsel, Spencer Sheehan, in 18 months. A second amended complaint may be filed within 20 days of the order.