The ingredients in Zarbee’s Naturals brand of Nighttime Cough Syrup + Mucus are not as natural as buyers are led to believe, a proposed class action says.
Despite the representations on the product’s front label, which state that the cough syrup’s ingredients include dark honey, English ivy leaf extract and grapefruit seed extract, Zarbee’s Naturals Nighttime Cough Syrup + Mucus contains “non-natural, artificial and synthetic ingredients” such as melatonin, ascorbic acid-derived vitamin C, citric acid and zinc, the 13-page lawsuit claims.
According to the complaint, defendant Zarbee’s, Inc. has misrepresented its cough syrup product through “affirmative misstatements, half-truths, and omissions.”
“Reasonable consumers must and do rely on defendant to honestly report what its products contain—natural ingredients, especially active ingredients that are natural,” the suit reads.
Depictions on the product’s front label of a bumblebee and ivy leaf represent the sources of the cough syrup’s ingredients to be dark honey and ivy leaf extract, the case begins. On the side panel, the defendant emphasizes the product’s “natural” ingredients with the use of the terms “chemical free” and “handpicked natural ingredients,” claims that are echoed on Zarbee’s website and in its marketing of the cough syrup, according to the complaint.
As the lawsuit tells it, since the product’s most touted ingredient, honey, is natural, consumers expect that less-touted ingredients will also be natural. The cough syrup’s front label “conveys the message” that the product is comprised “mainly of natural ingredients and components and that its active or key ingredients are natural,” the case says.
From there, the suit relays that while the FDA has not formally defined the meaning of natural as far as foods go, it has established a working definition consistent with its research into consumers’ understanding of the term. Per the case, consumers consider a product to be natural if it contains nothing artificial or synthetic that “would not normally be expected to be in that product.”
The lawsuit says that although consumers may understand that not every ingredient in Zarbee’s cough syrup is natural, they will expect its active ingredients—melatonin, vitamin C and zinc—to be. Per the suit, the citric acid found in the Nighttime Cough Syrup + Mucus, contrary to what consumers are led to believe, is not derived naturally, and comes from the fermentation of a type of fungus. After fermentation, a calcium carbonate chemical reaction is commonly used to purify the broth and recover the citric acid, the case says.
Similarly, the cough syrup’s melatonin ingredient, which in its natural form helps regulate sleep, is obtained through “complex chemical synthesis requiring toxic solvents and catalysts,” the lawsuit claims. As for the product’s zinc ingredient, the complaint says it, too, goes through a multi-stage chemical reaction before it achieves the form found in the cough syrup.
Zarbee’s has been able to sell more of the cough syrup, and at higher prices, than it would have absent its misleading label representations, the lawsuit alleges.
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