Trader Joe’s East Inc. is facing a proposed class action lawsuit in New York that claims the grocery chain attempted to mislead consumers as to the sugar content of its Trader Joe’s brand of instant oatmeal products by deceptively listing the ingredient as “organic dehydrated cane juice solids.”
According to the complaint, while “[c]onsumers expect a product’s ingredients to be declared by their common or usual name,” such as milk, butter, chocolate, and cinnamon, the defendant misleadingly listed sugar under a name consumers are unlikely to recognize as a sweetener.
“By identifying sugar by a term which fails to describe the basic function and qualities of that ingredient,” the suit says, “consumers are deceived into purchasing a product with added sugar as its second most predominant ingredient.”
The FDA has previously held that the description of sugar as “evaporated cane juice” may mislead consumers because the term does not properly disclose that cane juice refers to a sweetener, the case states. Trader Joe’s substitution of “evaporated cane juice” with “dehydrated cane juice” is similarly misleading, the suit claims, in that the term suggests the ingredient is healthy “when it is actually mere sugar.” The complaint stresses that the products’ use of the word “juice” causes consumers to expect the ingredient to be a liquid derived from fruits or vegetables, not a sweetener.
The case contends that the oatmeal’s labeling impacts the price and consumer acceptance of the product because shoppers are willing to pay more for goods made with real juice and less added sugar. The packaging of Trader Joe’s oatmeal gives consumers the false impression that the product is a better nutritional choice than similar alternatives because it contains less sugar, the lawsuit claims. As a result, Trader Joe’s was able to charge a premium price of $3.59 for eight packets of the oatmeal, the suit states. The case contends that the defendant’s practices as described above violate both the New York General Business Law and the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.