SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Though packaging for Fruit Roll-Ups and Fruit by the Foot snacks misleads consumers into believing they are made with real fruit, federal regulations allow for such labeling, even if not technically true, a federal judge ruled.
“A reasonable consumer might make certain assumptions about the type and quantity of fruit in the Fruit Snacks based on the statement ‘made with real fruit,’ along with other statements prominently featured on the products’ packaging,” U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti wrote.
“Additionally, the word ‘strawberry’ appears in large letters on the front, back, top, and bottom panels. Taken together, these statements might lead a reasonable consumer to believe that product is made with real strawberries, not pears from concentrate. The names ‘Fruit Roll-Ups’ and ‘Fruit by the Foot,’ along with the fanciful depiction of the products, which resemble fruit leather, may lead to further confusion about the Fruit Snacks’ ingredients. After seeing these prominent aspects of the packaging, a reasonable consumer might be surprised to learn that a substantial portion of each serving of the Fruit Snacks consists of partially hydrogenated oil and sugars.”
The class action, brought by a Bay Area mother in October 2011, claims General Mills incorrectly describes the ingredients in its fruit-flavored snacks and deceives people into thinking they are healthful.
Conti sided with the class that the words “made with real fruit” was deceptive, but agreed with General Mills that its claims based on the labels “naturally flavored” and “fruit flavored” are preempted by the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, since the regulation allows a product to be labeled as fruit flavored, even if it does not contain fruit.
“Thus, the regulation allows a producer to label a product as ‘natural strawberry flavored,’ even if that product contains no strawberries. While the regulation’s logic is troubling, the court is bound to apply it,” Conti wrote. “So long as that product ‘contains natural flavor’ which is ‘derived from’ the ‘characterizing food ingredient,’ it will not run afoul of the regulation.”