Trader Joe’s agrees to $3.375 million settlement of class action lawsuit alleging misuse of ‘All Natural’ and ‘100% Natural’

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by Charles Miller

In July, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California will make a final ruling as to whether to approve a proposed settlement regarding allegations that Trader Joe’s misused the phrases “All Natural” and “100% Natural.” The class action lawsuit alleges that certain Trader Joe’s food products were improperly marketed as “All Natural” or “100% Natural” even though they contained one or more allegedly synthetic ingredients such as ascorbic acid, cocoa processed with alkali, sodium acid pyrophosphate, xanthan gum, and vegetable mono- and diglycerides.

The settlement covers anyone who purchased, from October 24, 2007 through February 6, 2014, one or more of the following products labeled “All Natural” or 100% Natural, including:

  • Joe-Joe’s Chocolate Vanilla Creme Cookies;
  • Joe-Joes Chocolate Sandwich Creme Cookies;
  • Trader Joe’s Jumbo Cinnamon Rolls;
  • Trader Joe’s Buttermilk Biscuits;
  • Trader Giotto’s 100% Natural Fat Free Ricotta Cheese; and
  • Trader Joe’s Fresh Pressed Apple Juice.

Class members can submit a claim for payment for up to 10 total purchases of the products–which range in prices from $2.70 to $3.99 without providing proof of purchase. Those who are able to provide proof of purchase can receive compensation for more than 10 total purchases of these products.

The FDA has not promulgated regulations defining the terms “natural” or “all natural.” According to the FDA’s website:

What is the meaning of ‘natural’ on the label of food?

From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.

The class action complaint filed in the suit against Trader Joe’s alleges:

… [T]he combined use of “All Natural” or “100% Natural” on the labels of Trader Joe’s Products indicates to the average reasonable person that “the whole extent or quantity of” the ingredients contained in the food products are “produced or existing in nature; not artificial or manufactured.”

… Trader Joe’s made a far broader and more encompassing representation by labeling the Trader Joe’s Products as “All Natural” as opposed to simply saying they were “natural.” While federal regulators have established policies or regulations addressing the meaning of “natural” when used in food labeling, no regulations have specifically addressed the broader representation made by labeling a product as “all natural,” and the only policy to address “all natural” labeling requires disclosure of any synthetic or artificial ingredients so as to indicate they are not natural. However, it is noteworthy that although the broader “All Natural” representation was made on the Trader Joe’s Products’ labels, the presence of synthetic or artificial ingredients in them also violates the federal regulators’ policy and regulations for the narrower “natural” representation.

Beyond paying customers back, the proposed settlement also includes a promise by Trader Joe’s to not use the disputed labels. Specifically, the proposed settlement states:

Trader Joe’s agrees that the Disputed Labels are no longer being used and will not be used on the Products in the future unless the Products are reformulated or there is a change in the law such that it is clear that the use of “All Natural” or “100% Natural” on the Products would not be false or misleading.

To get a claim form or find out more about the settlement, visit the Trader Joe’s Settlement Site.

Consumer Protection from False and Misleading Advertising

State and federal laws protect consumers from false or misleading advertising. No business may make false, misleading, or deceptive claims about a product.

Advertising must be truthful and non-deceptive, and advertisers must have evidence to back up their claims. According to the Federal Trade Commission’s Deception Policy Statement, an advertisement is deceptive if it contains a statement – or omits information – that:

  • is likely to mislead consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances; and
  • is “material” – that is, important to a consumer’s decision to buy or use the product.

If you have been a victim of false or misleading advertising, you should contact a qualified, experienced lawyer to discuss your situation.

Heygood, Orr & Pearson fighting for consumer rights

The attorneys at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have represented numerous plaintiffs in consumer fraud and consumer class action lawsuits. For example, we have represented individuals who allege they were misled by claims made by Samsung regarding the memory capacity of its Galaxy S4 phone and dozens of consumers who claim they were defrauded into investing in life settlements.

Our law firm has represented clients across the country in class action lawsuits against multimillion dollar companies, making sure that when consumers are hurt by corporate wrongdoing, the companies that do so are held accountable for their actions. Heygood, Orr & Pearson is AV-rated, the highest rating available from Martindale-Hubble, the top law firm rating service. Our partners Michael Heygood, Jim Orr, and Eric Pearson are all board certified trial lawyers* and have all been voted by their peers as “Super Lawyers” in the state of Texas for several consecutive years.**

If you have been a victim of false or misleading advertising, contact the law firm of Heygood, Orr & Pearson for a free consultation so we can help you determine the best way to protect your legal rights and interests. You can reach us by calling our toll-free hotline at 1-877-446-9001, or by following the link to our free case evaluation form located on this page.

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Michael Heygood, James Craig Orr, Jr. and Eric Pearson are all Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law — Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

** Michael Heygood, James Craig Orr, Jr. and Eric Pearson were selected to the Super Lawyers List, a Thomson Reuters publication, for the years 2003 through 2014.