December 8, 2021 – Whole Foods Instant Oatmeal Class Action Dismissed for Now
The proposed class action detailed on this page was dismissed without prejudice on December 3, 2021, with a federal judge stressing that the back label of Whole Foods’ Oats & Flax instant oatmeal clearly states that the product contains 11 grams of sugar.
In a 20-page memorandum and order granting Whole Foods’ motion to toss the case, U.S. District Judge Rachel P. Kovner relayed that the plaintiffs failed to plausibly show that Whole Foods intended to fraudulently deceive consumers, and their claims, the judge said, “all fail as a matter of law.”
In a practical sense, Judge Kovner doubted the overall possibility that a buyer would be misled or fooled by Whole Foods’ instant oatmeal packaging, even if it uses “dehydrated cane juice solids” to describe sugar, the order relays.
“It seems unlikely that a reasonable consumer interested in a product’s sugar content would ignore the very place its sugar content is disclosed,” the judge wrote. “And even if a reasonable consumer was unaware of sugar’s many names, or of the nutrition label’s purpose, the fact remains that the words ‘Sugars 11g’ are prominently displayed immediately next to the ingredient list. Those words are hard to miss.”
Moreover, the oatmeal’s front label, despite stating that the product is low fat, has no representation that it’s sugar free, low in sugar or without added sugar, the order reads.
Judge Kovner afforded the plaintiffs 30 days from December 3 by which to file an amended complaint.
A proposed class action lawsuit out of New York claims Whole Foods Market Group, Inc. has “disguised” the sugar content of its 365 Everyday Value Instant Oatmeal products by labeling the ingredient as “organic dehydrated cane juice solids.”
According to the complaint, Whole Foods, rather than plainly state that its instant oatmeal contains added sugar, lists “organic dehydrated cane juice solids” as the second leading ingredient on the product’s label. The lawsuit claims that this labeling is deceptive because aside from the reasoning that “consumers expect ingredients on a product to be declared by their common or usual name,” the term “juice” leads many to mistakenly believe the ingredient is derived from fruits or vegetables. All told, calling sugar by anything other than its true name serves to trick consumers, the case alleges.
“By declaring ‘sugar’ by a term which fails to describe the basic function and qualities of the ingredient,” the complaint states, “reasonable consumers are deceived into purchasing a product with added sugar as its second most predominant ingredient.”
The complaint adds that the FDA has previously held that describing sugar as “cane juice” may mislead consumers because the descriptor fails to indicate that the ingredient is a sweetener. When it comes to declaring a food’s ingredients by their standard names, the case argues, there is no material difference between “evaporated cane juice” and “dehydrated cane juice solids” such as is used by the defendant.
Whole Foods has used the labeling of its oatmeal to take advantage of recent consumer trends and gain a stronger foothold in the marketplace for products with less sugar, according to the complaint. The suit describes Whole Food’s alleged conduct as “especially egregious” given the company’s reputation for selling high-quality health foods.
The labeling of the oatmeal allowed the defendant to charge the premium price of $4.29 for eight packets, a price that the case contends consumers would not have paid had they known the true nature of the product. Whole Foods’ allegedly deceptive labeling of the product in question violates both New York General Business Law and the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, the lawsuit contends.