A woman from San Bernardino, California has sued jelly bean maker Jelly Belly, claiming she didn’t know sugar was one of the ingredients in their “Sports Beans.” Jessica Gomez alleges that Jelly Belly was trying to “trick” her into believing Jelly Belly Sports Beans didn’t contain sugar through its use of “fancy phrasing.” [1]

Marketed as an exercise supplement, Jelly Belly Sports Beans list “evaporated cane juice” instead of sugar as an ingredient. This is the “fancy language” Gomez eludes to in the suit. The beans’ nutrition label does list the product’s sugar grams correctly.

The Jelly Belly website lists “cane sugar” on its ingredient list and says that 1 serving contains 19 grams of sugar. [2]

The lawsuit further alleges that Jelly Beans misleads buyers by claiming that Sports Beans contain carbohydrates, electrolytes, and vitamins as a way of attracting athletes to buy the products.

Gomez is suing Jelly Belly for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and product liability.

At face value, the lawsuit might sound frivolous and silly, but consider this: In May 2016, the FDA announced that “sweeteners derived from sugar cane should not be declared on food labels as ‘evaporated can juice.’” The agency claims the term is misleading and makes it appear that the ingredient is a fruit or vegetable, not a sugar. [1]

The FDA went on to encourage food companies to relabel products from “evaporated cane juice” to sugar to be more truthful and “distinguish the ingredient from other cane-based sweeteners.”

According to the agency, the guidelines are not legally-binding, but attorneys regularly cite them in court cases that accuse food companies of deceiving buyers with euphemisms for sugar on labels.

An attorney representing Gomez wrote in a letter to Jelly Belly:

“The term ‘evaporated cane juice’ is false or misleading because it suggests that the sweetener is ‘juice’ or is made from ‘juice’ and does not reveal that its basic nature and characterizing properties are those of sugar.” [1]

In April 2017, Jelly Belly filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, calling it “nonsense.” The company says the “plaintiff does not explain why an athlete – or anyone – would be surprised to find sugar in a product described as ‘Jelly Beans.’”

In a 2014 blog post, Marion Nestle, an author and professor of nutrition, wrote that:

“evaporated cane juice is the food industry’s latest attempt to convince you that … it is natural and healthy, better for you than table sugar and much better for you than high fructose corn syrup.’” [2]

Source: Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation

Food companies have come up with euphemisms for high fructose corn syrup as well, an ingredient potentially linked to reduced life span and reproductive problems, among other health complications. According to the Corn Refiners Association (CRA), many food companies have started listing the health-ravaging ingredient as “HFCS-90,” which is 90% pure fructose.

The group explains:

 “A third product, HFCS-90, is sometimes used in natural and ‘light’ foods, where very little is needed to provide sweetness. Syrups with 90% fructose will not state high fructose corn syrup on the label [anymore], they will state ‘fructose’ or ‘fructose syrup’.”

In light of food companies’ attempts to hide the true unhealthy nature of many of their products, and even the FDA’s past comment on such ingredients, Gomez’s lawsuit might not be as frivolous as it seems. What do you think?

Sources:

[1] Newsmax

[2] The Huffington Post

Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation


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About Julie Fidler:
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Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.