(CN) - Famed tortilla maker Mission Foods will head to trial over claims that it misleads consumers about transfat content by calling its spicy bean dip "all natural," and using "guacamole" to describe a dip that contains less than 2 percent avocado powder, a Los Angeles federal judge ruled.
Lead plaintiffs Mary Henderson and Eileen Joy Peviani accused the manufacturer's Nevada-based parent, Gruma Corp., of using misleading labels for its guacamole and bean dips.
The labels on Mission Guacamole and Mission Spicy Bean Dip promise "0 g transfat" and "0 g cholesterol" - but the plaintiffs say the claims aren't true, and that guacamole-flavored dip isn't the same as guacamole. They argue that Gruma lies further when it claims that the "all natural" dips are made in "the authentic tradition" and "with garden vegetables."
Henderson and Peviani say they lost money from buying Gruma's dips, and that they would not have bought the products if the labels did not conceal the incidence of transfat, which has been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.
U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz ruled Monday that the plaintiffs identified a legitimate injury under unfair competition and false advertising laws, and that Gruma did not prove that it has removed the misleading labels from its products.
"With such advertising remaining on supermarket shelves, Plaintiffs, as representatives of a class, should be entitled to pursue injunctive relief on behalf of all consumers in order to protect consumers from Defendant's alleged false advertising," Matz wrote.
The judge did strike several claims from the suit before letting it proceed to trial, however. Though the class can seek restitution and damages, Matz threw out their claims for disgorgement of profits under the False Advertising Act.
Gruma can also advertise its products as made in "the authentic tradition" and "with garden vegetables," since the first claim is simple puffery and the latter claim is accurate, if you disregard the amount of vegetables used.
"The product does in fact contain vegetables that can be grown in a garden," Matz wrote, citing the avocado powder, dehydrated onion and garlic powder present in Mission Guacamole.
Since the Food and Drug Association regulates Mission products, and lets Gruma round down, Matz found that the claims about "0 g transfat" and "0 g cholesterol" were pre-empted by federal law. "If the serving contains less than 0.5 gram [of transfat], the content, when declared, shall be expressed as zero," according to FDA regulations.
Matz will let the class press forward with claims over the "guacamole" label and the "all natural" label on the bean dip.
"A reasonable consumer could interpret Defendant's statements and label to imply that the product is indeed guacamole, which it is not, as it allegedly contains less than 2% avocado powder," Matz wrote.
Though Gruma says that the word is just a part of the title, "Guacamole Flavored Dip," Matz pointed out that the label makes the word "guacamole" much more prominent than the words "flavored dip."
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