A proposed class action claims the front label of Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value-brand “vanilla” organic almond milk coffee creamer is misleading in that it fails to state that the product is artificially flavored.
The case says representations on the front label of the almond milk product lead consumers to mistakenly believe the creamer’s flavor is derived from genuine vanilla beans when, in truth, the “vanilla” taste comes from artificial vanillin.
“Although the flavoring used to simulate the Product’s vanilla flavor is (1) not from vanilla beans, (2) from an artificial source and (3) made through artificial processes, Defendant pretends otherwise, conflating natural and artificial flavoring and deceiving consumers,” the complaint alleges.
Consumers prefer foods made without artificial flavors due to the belief that additives are linked with detrimental health effects and lower nutrition, the lawsuit says. Per the suit, Whole Foods has attempted to capitalize on consumers’ desire for naturally flavored foods by falsely labeling its almond milk creamer as “naturally flavored” when the product’s taste is actually derived from artificial vanillin.
According to the case, vanillin is a component of the vanilla bean that can be extracted through natural processes but “is not isolated commercially since it is part of vanilla extract.” Alternatively, artificial vanillin can also be produced from sources such as guaiacol (coal tar or petroleum), eugenol (clove oil), ferulic acid and lignin (tree pulp) through artificial processes, the suit relays. According to the lawsuit, vanillin from non-vanilla sources must be disclosed as an artificial flavor on a food’s front label.
Per the lawsuit, testing commissioned by the plaintiff’s counsel in the fall of 2020 and winter of 2021 has revealed that the Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value almond milk creamer contains added vanillin from a non-vanilla source. Because the amount of vanillin detected in the product is “significantly greater” than it would be had it been derived from real vanilla and unaccompanied by other aromatic compounds usually found in vanilla, the creamer contains, at most, only a trace amount of vanilla, the lawsuit alleges.
As the case tells it, the product’s ingredients list “tacitly reveals” the creamer is not flavored exclusively with real vanilla in that it lists “Natural Flavors” instead of vanilla extract. According to the suit, the ingredients list should have more accurately identified the flavoring component as “vanillin” or “artificial flavor” to avoid misleading consumers.
“Defendant’s ‘Natural Flavors’ contains at most a trace of real vanilla with added artificial vanillin yet fails to disclose this separately as either ‘vanillin’ or ‘artificial flavor’ even though it is required to,” the complaint says.
The case claims consumers who view the “vanilla” representations on the front label and “Natural Flavors” statement in the ingredients list would still be unaware that the product contained an artificial flavor. Per the suit, the defendant was required to state “artificially flavored” on the product’s front label given the added vanillin “simulates, resembles or reinforces the characterizing flavor.”
Whole Foods has sold more of the almond milk creamer product, and at higher prices, than it would have absent the “false and misleading representations,” the lawsuit alleges.
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