Posted December 20, 2013
Two court decisions issued last week in food labeling class action lawsuits considered the issue of a “reasonable consumer,” according to the Washington Legal Foundation and published in Forbes here.
In Ang v. Whitewave Foods Company, plaintiffs claimed consumer fraud against the maker of soymilk, almond milk, coconut milk, and yogurt products.  The plaintiffs “challenged the use of the term ‘milk’ in the products as well as ingredient references to ‘evaporated cane juice.’”
Judge Conti of the Northern District of California ruled that the evaporated cane juice (ECJ) claim was barred by res judicata.  He then found that federal labeling rules preempted the “milk” labeling claims – federal rules “do not prescribe how the plant-based beverages must be labeled, and the rules relating to ‘milk’ only ‘pertain to what milk is, rather than what it is not.”  In this situation, federal rules require that products use the “common or usual name,” which is was the makers of the “Silk” drinks did.
Judge Conti also found that the claims “fail for the additional reason that they are simply not plausible” and plaintiff’s ignorance of the words before the word “milk” “stretches the bounds of credulity.”
In Reilly v. Amy’s Kitchen, the plaintiff argued that the term “evaporated cane juice” misled her into buying the company’s products.  Judge Cohn of the Southern District of Florida ruled that he could not decide whether “reasonable consumers were actually deceived by the use of the term” on a motion to dismiss.  Judge Cohn also ruled that the plaintiff did not have standing to bring claims based on products that she did not actually purchase.


For more information on food labeling, please visit the National Agricultural Law Center’s website here.