Kellogg Can’t Duck Class Action Over Cereal Labels

SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) – The maker of Raisin Bran and Frosted Mini-Wheats must answer a legal challenge in federal court in San Jose, California, saying Kellogg’s breakfast cereals are in fact unhealthy and contribute to obesity and disease because they are laced with extra sugar, in the wake of a 64-page ruling by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh who sits in a jurisdiction sometimes referred to by its own judges as “the food court.”

Koh granted in part and denied in part Kellogg’s motion to dismiss a class action claiming several of its cereals and breakfast bars are labeled as healthy when they contain enough sugar to compromise the health of people who eat it regularly.

“The court finds that plaintiff has adequately alleged that defendant’s products are unhealthy due to excess added sugar for the purposes of the instant motion to dismiss,” Koh wrote in the 64-page ruling.

Plaintiff Stephen Hadley says he has eaten Kellogg’s products in the morning for several years, content in his belief that he was eating healthy options for breakfast. However, he claims he recently discovered that the amount of sugar the company puts in several of its products puts him at greater risk of contracting diseases related to excessive consumption of sugary foods – including metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, obesity, inflammation, high cholesterol, hypertension, Alzheimer’s disease, and some cancers.

The product lines in question include Kellogg’s Raisin Bran, Frosted Mini-Wheats, Smart Start-Original Antioxidants, Crunchy Nut, Nutri-Grain Cereal Bars, Nutri-grain Soft-Baked Breakfast Bars, Nutri-Grain Oat & Harvest Bars, and Nutri-Grain Harvest Hearty Breakfast Bars. These lines also have variants, bringing the total number of products involved in the lawsuit to 29.

Hadley says the products contain anywhere from 18 to 40 percent of a person’s daily recommended value of sugar, beyond the U.S. Food and Drug Administration guideline of 10 percent.

Kellogg argued Hadley doesn’t know how much sugar is in each product, and that advertising related to the health benefits of its products are either true or harmless puffery common to advertising language.

Specifically, Kellogg argued the FDA’s establishment of the 10 percent rule gave the company safe harbor because they have manufactured their products to hew closely to the guidelines.

But Koh said this adherence to federal dietary guidelines does not protect the company from litigation.

Kellogg next turned to the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, which the company said pre-empts any claims filed under California Consumer Legal Remedies Act and other state-related laws cited in the original lawsuit.

Koh said that certain language the company used relates to matters determined by the FDA and therefore are not bound by state laws in California, but that other claims made by the company could be adjudicated under state laws.

“The three claims identified in the parties’ briefing, the court finds that the No High Fructose Corn Syrup and Heart Healthy claims are not pre-empted at this stage of the litigation,” Koh wrote in the ruling.

Finally, Koh agreed with Kellogg that some of the language identified by Hadley is hyperbole common to advertising, but said some of the assertions made by Kellogg do not amount to sales puffery.

“The court finds that the ‘unbelievably nutritious’ and ‘positively nutritious’ statements are puffery, but that the ‘nutritious,’ “essential nutrients,” and ‘wholesome’ statements cannot be dismissed as puffery in the instant motion to dismiss,” Koh wrote.

Koh dismisses claims relating to 5 of the 29 products with prejudice, finding the statements made in relation to those products are puffery. However, claims made pertaining to the remaining 24 products – including Raisin Bran, Frosted Mini Wheats and several lines of breakfast bars – will move forward.

“The court denies defendant’s motion to dismiss as to the above-listed 24 products because these products contain at least one statement that the court found was not pre-empted, non-misleading, or puffery as a matter of law,” Koh wrote.

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