What does “natural” mean to you? If you’re like most people who see an “all natural” label on a food product, you would surmise that all of the ingredients are natural, not concocted in a lab or subject to man-made chemical processing. Unfortunately, in the world of processed foods, you can’t always judge a box by its labels.
Recently Kellogg, the largest U.S. breakfast cereal manufacturer, offered to settle a class action consumer fraud lawsuit regarding their Kashi and Bear Naked cereal brands. At issue, labels that claimed the cereals were “All Natural” and “100% Natural.”
This lawsuit is one example of many where consumers are not just asking for transparency in their food choices, but demanding it and holding food-makers to task.
In this case, consumers accused Kellogg’s of misleading them with “natural” labels despite their cereals containing things like pyroxidine hydrochloride, calcium pantothenate, and hexane-processed soy oil.
The settlement agreement says that Kellogg’s agrees to remove the claims from their cereal labels but stops short of them admitting any misleading or fraudulent claims. It will also set up a $5 million fund for cash compensation to Kashi victims, at an average of $0.50 per box of cereal purchased during specific time periods. A separate Bear Naked fund of $325,000 will also be set up.
A judge has to agree to the proposed settlement before the case is ultimately dismissed.
“Kellogg’s resolution of this case is part of a trend,” says attorney Livia Kiser who specializes in food label litigation. Producers are well-aware that their misleading tactics cannot go on forever, particularly as consumers realize they are being duped.
For their part, Kellogg’s insists they did nothing wrong.
“We stand behind our advertising and labeling practices,” said Kris Charles, a company spokesperson. “We will comply with the terms of the settlement agreement by the end of the year and will continue to ensure our foods meet our high quality and nutrition standards, while delivering the great taste people expect.”
And as anyone might expect, this is far from the first legal action taken against companies falsely representing the ‘all natural’ label. PepsiCo has agreed to settle out of court for $9 million over a class action lawsuit that claimed ‘natural’ and ‘non-GMO’ on their bottles was misleading since they are indeed made with GMO ingredients, as well as synthetic and ‘unnatural’ items. There are so many more examples.
When it comes to reading food labels, the back or side of the box is where you should look. While the nutrition panel may not be perfect (still not featuring whether or not a product contains GMOs), it does list the ingredients with far less marketing fanfare.