Posts By Shook, Hardy & Bacon L.L.P.

The Federal Circuit has affirmed a Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) decision refusing to grant a trademark to Real Foods Pty Ltd. for “Corn Thins” and “Rice Thins,” finding the terms to be “merely descriptive.” Real Foods Pty Ltd. v. Frito-Lay N. Am. Inc., Nos. 17-1959, 17-2009 (Fed. Cir., entered October 4, 2018). Frito-Lay North America opposed Real Foods’ trademark application, but Real Foods argued both that the terms were not descriptive and that even if they were descriptive, they had acquired distinctiveness. The Federal Circuit found significant evidence to support TTAB’s conclusion that the terms are descriptive, noting that the first part of the terms is the primary ingredient and the second is the shape. “The composite marks are ‘merely descriptive’ because they ‘immediately convey[] knowledge of a quality or characteristic of the product[s],’ specifically the products’ main ingredients and thickness,” the court held. The court also found…

A consumer has filed a putative class action alleging that several ingredients in LaCroix sparkling water, which is marketed as “always 100% natural,” are “non-natural flavorings and synthetic compounds.” Rice v. Nat’l Beverage Corp., No. 2018-CH-12302 (Ill. Cir. Ct., Cook Cty., filed October 1, 2018). The plaintiff alleges that the ingredients are synthetic and therefore cause consumers harm. “For instance, limonene causes kidney toxicity and tumors, linalool is used as a cockroach insecticide; and linalool propionate is used to treat cancer,” the complaint asserts. The complaint garnered significant media coverage, including in CBS News, Los Angeles Times and USA Today. A nutritional scientist reportedly told CBS News, “These compounds are found in nature, mostly in fruit such as oranges, limes, strawberries, pineapples, bananas….so we consume these compounds every day if we eat any kind of fruit.” In addition, Snopes noted, “The chemicals identified in the lawsuit [] are both safe…

A consumer has filed a lawsuit alleging that he contracted Salmonella from beef supplied to a restaurant by JBS Tolleson Inc. Rozich v. JBS Tolleson Inc., No. 18-1929 (D. Nev., filed October 8, 2018). The plaintiff alleges his infection stemmed from an outbreak of Salmonella that resulted in JBS recalling nearly seven million pounds of beef on October 4, 2018. The complaint cites a July 2017 notice from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service purportedly alleging a JBS facility president enabled “‘egregious’ and ‘inhumane’ practices with livestock.” The plaintiff seeks damages and costs for allegations of strict product liability, negligence and breach of warranty.

Three consumers have filed a putative class action alleging that Arizona Beverage Co.’s teas, energy drinks and fruit juices are misleadingly marketed as containing “no preservatives” despite containing citric and ascorbic acids. Kubilius v. Arizona Beverage Co., No. 18-9075 (S.D.N.Y., filed October 3, 2018). The plaintiffs assert that they paid a premium for the products believing them to be preservative-free but later discovered that the products contain citric and ascorbic acid, which allegedly “serve as preservatives by functioning as sequestrants, removing compounds and elements from their environment so as to slow the degradation of food and beverages.” The complaint also cites a declaration from a food scientist who asserts that “while citric acid and ascorbic acid can also be employed by a manufacturer that intends to impart taste, a greater quantity of these substances is required to impart taste than to preserve foods and beverages. … Even if imparting taste…

Following a petition from several advocacy groups, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has deauthorized the use of seven synthetic substances used as flavoring in foods. The agency found that the advocacy groups provided data demonstrating that six ingredients cause cancer in animals—benzophenone, ethyl acrylate, eugenyl methyl ether, myrcene, pulegone and pyridine—and removed styrene from its food additives list, finding that it has been permanently abandoned in that use. In addition, FDA has banned the use of benzophenone as "a plasticizer in rubber articles intended for repeated use in contact with food." The rule took effect October 9, 2018.

Shook Partners Paul La Scala and Naoki Kaneko, with Associate Emily Weissenberger, will join Western Growers Vice President and General Counsel Jason Resnick for a complimentary webinar on the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act (Prop. 65). The webinar will cover (i) Prop. 65 warnings at facilities; (ii) product labels on packaging and websites; (iii) special considerations for the produce industry; and (iv) the anatomy of a Prop. 65 case.

A California federal court has granted class certification to a group of consumers alleging that Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. misrepresented its food as made without genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Schneider v. Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., No. 16-2200 (N.D. Cal., entered September 29, 2018). Chipotle has faced a number of similar suits, but other iterations have been dismissed. The court found that the plaintiffs met each of the requirements for class certification, rejecting Chipotle's argument that each class member may have seen significantly different marketing messages. "Plaintiffs rely primarily on the advertisements and statements issued and installed in all of Chipotle's stores," the court found, noting that three advertisements supported the plaintiffs' claims. "Based on Plaintiffs’ theory that 'reasonable consumers understood Non-GMO to include meat and dairy ingredients that were not sourced from animals fed GM feed,' [] the Court finds that the representations made on these three in-store signs are…

Consumers have filed lawsuits alleging that companies misrepresent their products as "natural" because they contain d-malic acid. One lawsuit targets Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc., alleging it mislabels its juices as free from artificial flavors despite containing d-malic acid rather than the naturally occurring l-malic acid. Froio v. Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc., No. 18-12005 (D. Mass., filed September 24, 2018). The complaint further alleges that the juices contain furmaric acid, which is "manufactured from petrochemical feedstock, either benzene or butane, through chemical transformation to maleic anhydride." The plaintiffs argue that a "reasonable consumer understands Defendant's claims that the Products contain no 'artificial' flavoring to mean that the flavoring is derived from a natural source." For allegations of fraud, negligent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment and violations of New York and Massachusetts consumer-protection statutes, the plaintiffs seek class certification, damages, injunctive relief, restitution and attorney's fees. Two consumers have alleged that Neurobrands LLC also…

A New York federal court has dismissed allegations from a putative class action arguing that Pret A Manger Ltd. sold sandwich wraps with excess slack fill between the wrap's halves. Lau v. Pret A Manger (USA) Ltd., No. 17-5775 (S.D.N.Y., entered September 28, 2018). The court held that the plaintiffs lacked standing for an injunction despite their argument that they would consider purchasing the wraps in the future, finding "no sufficient basis for inferring that plaintiffs would ever seek to purchase a Pret wrap again as long as the status quo persists." The court also disagreed with the plaintiffs' argument that the slack fill in the wraps amounted to an intent to defraud consumers. "Specifically, plaintiffs state that less than half, or 45 percent, or Pret wraps surveyed contained slack-fill," the court noted. "Drawing all reasonable inferences in plaintiffs' favor, the Court finds that the facts are insufficient to nudge…

A consumer has filed a putative class action alleging that Stremick's Heritage Foods misrepresents its  Kern's juice as a "healthful, natural juice product made solely from fresh fruits" despite being "almost entirely sugar-water, with a small amount of fruit juice added for color and texture." Levin v. Stremick's Heritage Foods, No. 18-1748 (C.D. Cal., filed September 26, 2018). The complaint alleges that the juices "consist of 70% water and high fructose corn syrup, topped with 30% or less of the juice of the fruit for which the Products are named." The complaint also alleges that "pictorial representations" of "life-like" fruits on the packaging mislead consumers about the beverages' juice content. The plaintiff further argues that the products contain "massive amounts of refined sugar. The 'Apricot Nectar' Product, for example, contains 47 grams of sugar per serving—more than Grape Kool-Aid." According to the complaint, the juices are not healthful because excess…

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