Labeling class action filings focused on purportedly misleading ingredient labels tend to come in waves, and 2019 saw a surfeit of lawsuits targeting vanilla, white chocolate and malic acid.

Several plaintiffs alleged that they were misled by products listed as vanilla-flavored because, they argued, they believed they were buying products flavored with vanilla beans rather than artificial vanilla. The allegations reached yogurt, cream soda, ice cream, coconut milk and almondmilk, among other products.

D-l malic acid, a synthetic flavoring, was frequently alleged to be masquerading on ingredient lists as malic acid, a naturally occurring compound. Many plaintiffs argued that they purchased products—including Brookside chocolates, Laffy Taffy, orange juice and SweeTarts—believing them to be “natural” and free of synthetic ingredients.

Plaintiffs continue to file putative class actions alleging that they were misled by labels marketing products as containing “real cocoa” rather than “cocoa processed with alkali,” and Oreos and Cocoa Pebbles faced such lawsuits in 2019. Plaintiffs also turned to federal regulations defining white chocolate to challenge the white chocolate content of Drizzalicious rice cakes and Clif bars, which allegedly did not meet the regulatory standard of cocoa butter, dairy ingredients and sweetener.

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For decades, manufacturers, distributors and retailers at every link in the food chain have come to Shook, Hardy & Bacon to partner with a legal team that understands the issues they face in today's evolving food production industry. Shook attorneys work with some of the world's largest food, beverage and agribusiness companies to establish preventative measures, conduct internal audits, develop public relations strategies, and advance tort reform initiatives.