California residents have filed a putative class action in a federal court against
grocery chain Trader Joe’s Co., alleging that a number of its “All Natural”
products contain synthetic or artificial ingredients and thus are mislabeled
and falsely advertised. Larsen v. Trader Joe’s Co., No. 11-5188 (N.D.
Cal., filed October 24, 2011).

According to the complaint, “The labeling of products as ‘All Natural’ carries
implicit health benefits important to consumers—benefits that consumers
are often willing to pay a premium for over comparable products that are not
‘All Natural.’ Trader Joe’s has cultivated and reinforced a corporate image that
has catered to this ‘All Natural’ theme and has boldly emblazed this claim on
each and every one of its foods identified above, despite the fact Trader Joe’s
uses synthetic ingredients in the products identified above.” The listed products
include cookies, biscuits, cheese, fruit jellies, and apple juice sold under
the Trader Joe’s label. The purported synthetic ingredients include potassium
carbonate, xanthan gum, sodium citrate, and ascorbic acid. The plaintiffs
acknowledge that these ingredients are listed on product labels, but contend
that Trader Joe’s did not disclose that these ingredients are synthetic.

Claiming purely economic damages, that is, failure to receive the products
bargained for and paying a premium for products purporting to be all natural
“rather than paying the lesser amount for non-natural alternatives,” the
plaintiffs seek the certification of a nationwide class. They allege common
law fraud; unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business practices under California
law; false advertising under California law; violation of the Consumers Legal
Remedies Act; and restitution based on quasi-contract/unjust enrichment.
They request restitution; compensatory, statutory and punitive damages; “[a] declaration and order enjoining Trader Joe’s from advertising its products misleadingly, in violation of California’s Sherman Food, Drug and Cosmetic Law and other applicable laws and regulations”; attorney’s fees, costs and interest; and an accounting and the imposition of a constructive trust on all “monies received by Trader Joe’s as a result of the unfair, misleading, fraudulent and unlawful conduct alleged.”

About The Author

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.

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