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No Sweetened Deal: District Court Again Dismisses Class Action Regarding Quaker’s Maple & Brown Sugar Oatmeal

Mar 29, 2018 | Topic: Class Actions

A California District Court again dismissed a putative class action that alleged Quaker Oats Company (“Quaker”) violated various false advertising and unfair competition laws when it sold “Maple & Brown Sugar” oatmeal that did not in fact contain any maple syrup.  Plaintiffs originally characterized maple syrup as a “flavoring” in the oatmeal.  In ruling on Quaker’s original Motion to Dismiss, the court found that food labels can use terms like “maple” or “maple-flavored,” without having any maple syrup in the product, so long as the product contains maple flavoring and is labeled as containing “natural” and/or “artificial”. 

The court granted the plaintiffs leave to amend and the plaintiffs ultimately changed course, this time arguing maple is a sweetener, and not a flavoring.  The court, however, disagreed, as maple appears on the U.S. Food and Drug Administrations (“FDA”) list of “flavoring substances.”  Further, the FDA defines “flavor” as an ingredient “whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional,” and which is used “to impart or help impart a taste or aroma in food.”  The oatmeal at issue did not list maple syrup as an ingredient, but rather used the term in conjunction with flavoring.  As such, despite the plaintiffs’ claims to the contrary, the court found maple to be a “flavoring under both the FDA’s regulations and common sense.” 

The court then took it one-step further, and determined that even if the maple syrup at issue in this case were a sweetener, and not flavoring, the plaintiffs’ claims would still fail because they had not demonstrated that the oatmeal’s labels violated federal sweetener regulations.  First, the plaintiffs claimed Quaker violated the requirement that a food ingredient’s list contain “the common or usual name of each ingredient.”  However, since the plaintiffs asserted that the subject oatmeal did not include any maple syrup, the Court rejected this argument, as the aforementioned requirement “simply cannot apply to an ingredient not contained in the food.” 

Second, the plaintiffs alleged the oatmeal’s label violated regulations governing the common or usual name of a food, which require ingredients to be named in the label if they have a “material bearing on price or consumer acceptance” of the product.  The plaintiffs claimed that maple syrup is a “premium ingredient” that affects the price and consumer acceptance of a product.  The court again disagreed, finding that the relevant regulation of the common or usual name of a food refers to the “basic nature of the food or its characterizing properties or ingredients.”  Because the “basic nature” of the oatmeal is not maple syrup or maple sugar, but instead the oatmeal itself, the regulation did not support the plaintiffs’ claims.

The Court again dismissed the plaintiffs’ false labeling claims.  Because the Court had concluded, for a second time, that the plaintiffs’ claims were preempted by the applicable regulations, the Court determined an amendment would be futile and dismissed the complaint with prejudice.

We previously reported on Quaker’s original Motion to Dismiss, which discussed the plaintiffs’ claims that maple syrup should be characterized as flavoring, and not a sweetener.  Click here to read our prior report.