Disclosure of Sugar Content on Nutrition Label Dooms Plaintiffs in “Cane Juice” Case

By: Matthew G. Ball

Summary: Eastern District of New York dismisses claims that labeling of Whole Foods’ Oats & Flax Instant Oatmeal is false and misleading as to sugar content

Key Takeaways: In Warren v. Whole Foods Market Group, Inc., No. 19-CV-6448 (RPK) (LB) (E.D.N.Y. Dec. 3, 2021), two plaintiffs who purchased Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value brand  Oats & Flax Instant Oatmeal alleged that the product’s labeling was false and misleading under New York’s General Business Law because (1) they believed that the use of the term “dehydrated cane juice solids” referred to a fruit juice, rather than sugar, and (2) a stamp on the product that said “whole grains” misled them into thinking that the oatmeal contained only whole grains.  The Court granted the motion to dismiss on all claims.  The Court noted that the nutrition label on the back of the product clearly disclosed the sugar content, there were no representations on the front of the product that the oatmeal was “sugar-free,” “low in sugar,” “without added sugar,” or anything similar, and, in light of that, the Court was unwilling to conclude that a reasonable consumer would be misled given the totality of the labeling. The Court also found that plaintiffs offered no reason why a reasonable consumer would conclude that “cane juice” meant “fruit juice.”  Similarly, the Court found that no reasonable person would conclude that the entirety of the product was composed only of whole grains, given, among other things, the actual stamp-at-issue read “100% Whole Grain – 18g or more per serving” immediately conveying that the whole grains make up a portion of each serving and the product name itself disclosed a non-grain ingredient, flax.  At least in the Eastern District of New York, a reasonable consumer is not permitted to focus on one area of labeling to support an implausible interpretation of the labeling as a whole. As the Court stated, the “analysis begins with the front of the box and ends on its back.”

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