Hain Celestial Group is facing a US lawsuit seeking millions in damages for alleged false claims its BluePrint fruit and vegetable juices are ‘unpasteurized’ and ‘100% raw’, due to use of high pressure processing (HPP).
Michael Stark et al. brought their class action against the organic food company (2012 sales $1.378bn) in the US District Court, Southern District of New York on October 15, in relation to Hain’s BluePrintJuice and BluePrintCleanse lines.
They claim that HPP neutralizes the benefits of live enzymes, probiotics, vitamins, proteins and nutrients that would otherwise be retained in raw and unpasteurized juice, noting that ‘Raw foodism’ is a relatively new diet that companies such as Hain Celestial are eager to tap.
The method decontaminates and preserves food products using high pressure, but this suit claims that a “direct and unavoidable result” of HPP is lesser nutritional value and health benefits.
“Defendants misrepresent their juice products as ’100% raw’, ‘Raw and Organic’ and ‘Unpasteurized’ in an effort to appeal to health-conscious, raw-juice-drinking consumers,” Stark et al. assert, on their own behalf and that of all US consumers who bought Hain’s juices.
‘We don’t cook juice!’ Hain Celestial
“By doing so, they are able to charge a significant price premium – roughly double the price of similarly sized, but properly labelled, HPP-treated juice products,” the plaintiffs insist, noting that consumers are willing to pay $5-7/bottle more for Hain Celestial’s juices.
Raw juices favor extraction methods that retain as many nutrients and live enzymes as possible, but must be consumed within five days or less of production due to lack of heat treatment, and this short lifespan and use of premium ingredients tends to make such products relatively expensive.
But the claimants express surprise that Hain’s juices have a considerably longer shelf life of about 30 days due to use of HPP, which the claimants say Hain has used since at least March 2012.
Labelling and advertising of Hain’s products represents the products as ‘never heated’ and states ‘BluePrint uses pressure instead of heat to keep our beverages fresh, raw and safe. We don’t cook juice!’
A ‘Manifreshto’ on the label states that juice should never be cooked, since it kills vitamins and live enzymes, adding that even flash pasteurized means cooked.
‘Run-of-mill, pasteurized juices’ - Plaintiffs
But Stark et al. claim that each of the defendants’ misrepresentations is false and misleading, and argue that the juice products are neither unpasteurized nor 100% raw.
They insist that the effects of HPP on the juices are identical to those of traditional pasteurization – inactivated enzymes, inactivated probiotics, altered physical properties of products and denatured proteins “among other undesirable properties”.
“As a result of defendant’s use of HPP, their juice products are nothing more than run-of-mil, pasteurized juices, and fail to provide the same nutrients, enzymes and vitamins that the products have prior to being subjected to HPP,” Stark et al. claim.
“This results in juices that purport to be ‘100% raw’ and ‘unpasteurized’, yet lack the characteristics and qualities traditionally associated with such products.”
However, contacted about this story, Tim Hunter, HPP Marketing Manager at Avure Technologies (we must make it clear that Avure is unconnected with this lawsuit, but as a leading HPP systems supplier takes an active interest in the allegations carried therein) said that "science will out".
"As soon as the science is introduced to this case, it will resolve quickly," Hunter said. "The beauty of HPP is that micro organisms that are harmful to humans are inactivated at 86,000 psi (6000 bar), while enzymes remain active, and vitamins remain intact. Consumers of premium juices are concerned about all aspects of their drink - nutrition, flavor, and safety. HPP enables all of these."
Stark et al. claim damages for themselves and the class of $5m+ exclusive of interest, legal fees and costs.