Whole Foods Facing a Lawsuit Over Minimal Natural Ingredients in Sparkling Water

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Whole Foods Facing a Lawsuit Over Minimal Natural Ingredients in Sparkling Water
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Whole Foods, purchased by Amazon in 2017, is facing a class action lawsuit over its Lemon Raspberry Italian Sparkling Mineral Water. This lawsuit alleges that the marketing of this product is deceptive in that the amount of actual lemon and raspberry in the product may not be sufficient to meet Federal Aroma Regulation (21 CFR 101.22).

This allegation stems from the ingredient list itself.

In the drink’s ingredient list, the natural flavors are listed as follows: “Organic Natural Flavors (Raspberry, Lemon)”. The complaint points out that for both flavors to be contained in one parentheses instead of as separate ingredients implies that the amount of natural flavor included in the product is far below what consumers expect upon purchasing. The image of raspberries and lemons on the packaging as well as the use of the word “organic” may further be credited with raising consumer expectations regarding the health benefits of the product.

For example, natural raspberry and lemon flavors in a larger amount may provide nutritional benefits including vitamin C, potassium, omega-3s, and manganese. However, the amount of flavoring actually included in this drink is too minimal for consumers to derive these benefits.

The official class action complaint even cites lab analysis regarding the raspberry and lemon content in this sparkling beverage.

According to the lab analysis, the water did not contain the range of compounds that consumers expected would be present based on the product’s presentation. According to the complaint, Whole Foods’s Lemon Raspberry Italian Sparkling Mineral Water does not contain “...an appreciable amount of lemon and raspberry ingredients, nor is its flavor only and/or predominantly from lemons and raspberries.”

If the court decides these findings are correct, Whole Foods will have to answer for deceptive and misleading marketing practices. It may also choose to settle before the court reaches an official verdict, but it will likely be required to change its packaging to better reflect the actual raspberry-lemon content in the beverage.

Taste labeling lawsuits are not entirely uncommon.

What this and similar lawsuits boil down to is what kind of responsibility food manufacturers have to accurately represent the ingredients in and even the taste/smell of their products. Just as a food manufacturer that fails to disclose all of their ingredients could face litigation for false advertising, representing a product via the packaging and crafted consumer impression that is substantially different from the actual product may be considered deceptive marketing practices.

In these situations, even if someone is not hurt by the inaccuracy, consumers involved in the litigation generally admit that they would not have purchased or would not have purchased for the same price the product they received had they known the packaging was inaccurate. This sparkling beverage proposed class action was filed in the Southern District of New York and applies to multiple states in which the products were sold.

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