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Paul Zimmerman
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Trader Joe’s Targeted in Class Action Suit

On Tuesday, December 2, a California federal court struck down a consumer group’s 2013 claim that Trader Joe’s had misled shoppers into thinking “soy milk” was “cow’s milk.”  Judge Vince Chhabria held that Trader Joe’s had not violated the FDA’s food advertising/misbranding rules, because no reasonable person would confuse soy milk with cow’s milk. Judge Chhabria, however, allowed the group to proceed with potential class allegations that the grocery store deceptively used the term “evaporated cane juice” in place of sugar on the ingredient list of its store branded yogurt, and failed to disclose use of certain additives in its products.

Per the FDA’s detailed food labeling rules, ingredients must be listed by their common or usual name, and that name must also “accurately describe the basic nature of the food or its characterizing properties or ingredients.”  21 CFR 101.4(a)(1). That name must also not be “confusingly similar to the name of any other food that is not reasonably encompassed within the same name.”  21 C.F.R. 102.5(a).  Food labeling is a significant area of concern at the FDA, and during 2015, the federal agency issued a number of policy guidance documents on a wide range of labeling issues, from “FDA’s Policy on Declaring Small Amounts of Nutrients and Dietary Ingredients on Nutrition Labels” (July 2015), to “Voluntary Labeling Indicating Whether Foods Have or Have Not Been Derived from Genetically Engineered Plants” (November 2015).  In addition to mitigating and managing exposure to consumer class actions, manufacturers must also continue to keep up to date with their compliance programs and work with counsel to ensure strict adherence to the increasingly rigid rules.  

This article is not offered as, and should not be relied on as, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice in specific situations.