A federal district judge in California has denied General Mill’s motion to dismiss a proposed class action that alleges the term “100% Natural” on its Nature Valley products is deceptive and misleading because they contain genetically modified organisms and other synthetic ingredients.
Without ruling on the issues of class certification, Judge William Orrick of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ordered on March 26 that the lawsuit brought by plaintiff Gabriel Rojas, as amended in 2013, be allowed to proceed. Read the judge’s order here.
The suit alleges violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law, False Advertising Law, and Consumer Legal Remedies Act.
Orrick ruled that he was satisfied that Rojas has standing to bring claims challenging 29 products—different flavors and varieties of granola bars—that have the label “100% Natural.”
“Although General Mills argues that the products are not ‘substantially similar’ because ingredients and labeling vary across the 29 products, these differences do not change the fact that, as alleged, the challenged representations are the same and cause the same harm,” Orrick wrote in his 17-page order.
In addition, the judge said Rojas has alleged facts that plausibly suggest that a reasonable consumer would be misled into believing that the terms “100% NATURAL” and “all natural” mean that the Nature Valley products contain no non-natural ingredients. “General Mills cannot rely on the ingredients list to cure that alleged misrepresentation,” the judge wrote.
Orrick also dismissed General Mill’s primary contention that a claim based on the words “100 % Natural” is not actionable because Rojas and the plaintiffs in two other related cases in the district, Janney v. General Mills Inc. and Bohac v. General Mills Inc. have individualized and subjective definitions of the term “natural.” The judge said it was not permissible to dismiss this complaint based on allegations made by plaintiffs in other actions, as requested by General Mills.
Rojas purchased General Mill’s “Nature Valley Oats and Honey Crunchy Granola Bars and Nature Valley Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunchy Granola Bars” in 2012 in San Francisco, according to court records.
Rojas alleged the products containing GMO’s are not natural but grown from seeds modified in a laboratory. The plaintiff cited other synthetic ingredients in the Nature Valley products such as Maltodextrin, Soy, Yellow Corn Flour, Soy Flour and/or Soy Lecithin.
Rojas brought the putative class action on behalf of all California residents who purchased General Mill’s Nature’s Valley products between Oct. 1. 2008, and the date the company stopped labeling the products “100% Natural.”
Subsequent to the filing of Rojas’ complaint, General Mills removed the “100% Natural” claim from the products’ labeling.
Laura Castro is a contributing writer for The National Law Journal.