Court Dismisses Labeling Claims Against Baby Food Maker
A federal court has dismissed a putative class action against baby and toddler-food manufacturer Sprout Foods Inc. after finding the plaintiffs failed to bring plausible claims that the company’s product labeling is misleading. Davidson v. Sprout Foods Inc., No. 22-1050 (N.D. Cal., entered October 21, 2022).
The plaintiffs, a California couple, alleged the company’s product packaging contained statements about nutrition content, such as “3g of Protein, 4g of Fiber and 300mg Omega-3 from Chia ALA,” that constitute “nutrient content claims” in violation of U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations. They alleged that Sprout violated the California False Advertising Act, the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act and the California Unfair Competition Law (UCL). They also brought claims of common-law fraud and unjust enrichment.
In reviewing the plaintiffs’ fraud claims, the court found that the plaintiffs claim to make two showings: that the labels communicate a message that the products provide physical health benefits for children, and that they are harmful nutritionally and developmentally. While they plausibly argue the first, the court said the second “is harder to swallow.”
“Plaintiffs suggest that the Products are harmful for children because they contain ‘high amounts of free sugars,’ but they do not place this averment in context by describing at what point ‘high’ sugar content crosses into harmful levels (or even why, in particular, these sugar levels are harmful),” the court noted. “Plaintiffs also argue that pouch-based foods may be unhealthy for developing children, but they rely for support on speculative research conclusions and hypothetical scenarios to argue these products are harmful—for instance, that pouches ‘may lead to long term health risks,’ (emphasis added), or may be harmful if overly relied on by parents, or ‘can be a gateway to bad long-term snacking habits and routine overeating.’”
The court said it is unclear why the products are per se harmful, “rather than harmful only after a series of contingencies outside the scope of this case.”
“Finally, Plaintiffs do little to explain why, even if these averred harms exist, they outweigh any potential benefits of the Products—such as protein or fiber intake—such that the Products no longer provide any physical health benefits,” he said.
The court concluded that the plaintiffs have not provided enough to state plausibly that the product labels are misleading and dismissed the California law claims with leave to amend. The court separately found the plaintiffs’ claim under the “unlawful” prong under the UCL was preempted by federal law and must be dismissed, and dismissed the unjust enrichment claim.