Trader Joe’s Must Face Misbranding Claim

Specialty grocer, Trader Joe’s, must face a federal class action alleging the store misbranded dozens of foods by failing to call “evaporated cane juice” sugar, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick III Friday refused to dismiss the bulk of the class action against the company saying it must face claims that a variety of yogurts, enchilada sauce and chocolate peanut butter caramel truffles included allegedly misleading labels.

The lawsuit also included claims that other products did not list chemical additives and faulted the store for calling Soy-based drink “Soy Milk” when it contained no cow’s milk.

Orrick dismissed claims related to the Soy Milk products and labels with allegedly undisclosed additives, but gave the plaintiffs a chance to amend the complaint.

The lawsuit cites guidance from the Food and Drug Administration warning that sweeteners derived from sugar cane syrup should not be declared as “evaporated cane juice,” the opinion recites.

Plaintiffs alleged that health conscious consumers, trying to avoid sugar, might not have purchased products if they were properly labeled “sugar.”

In all, the lawsuit alleged 177 additional products had label misrepresentation by either failing to call the cane juice sugar in 23 products, or by using the term “milk” to describe Soymilk and failing to disclose the artificial flavors or chemical preservatives in 138 products.

Trader Joe’s asked that the lawsuit be dismissed.  It argued that among the chemical additives were tocopherol, citric acid and sodium citrate.  The tocopherol functions as vitamin E, an antioxidant, and the other two act to limit acidity.

The suit alleged unfair competition, false advertising and violation of the Consumers Legal Remedies Act.  He allowed the lawsuit to proceed against the products with evaporated cane syrup labels.

He gave them 20 days to amend the claims related to Soy Milk and those with undisclosed additives.

Case:  Gitson v. Trader Joe’s Company,  No. 13-cv-1333WHO


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