A California court in a class action against Dreyer’s – disputing its ‘all natural’ ice cream claim – has ruled that consumers’ expectations should trump manufacturers’ expectations about what should normally be present in a product.
Complainants in the case against Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream claim, among other ingredients, that the use of potassium carbonate as an alkalizing agent for cocoa in Haagen-Dazs ice cream means that the product contains an artificial ingredient.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has no formal definition of ‘natural’, but it does have an informal advisory policy, which says that ‘natural’ means “nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in the food.”
Writing on his firm’s FDA Law Blog , attorney Ricardo Carvajal drew attention to the court’s opinion, and said that cases of this kind – and there have been many in recent months – normally focus on whether the ingredients under dispute are artificial or not. However, they do not typically address the issue of whether an ingredient would normally be expected to be there.
According to court documents , DGIC argued that potassium carbonate is commonly used as an alkanizing agent, and nothing artificial or synthetic had been used in its ice cream.
However, the court found: “Even if potassium carbonate is commonly used, that does not necessarily imply normally expected; a reasonable consumer may not have the same knowledge as, e.g., a commercial manufacturer.”
Carvajal wrote: “Thus, at least in this court’s eyes, the presence of an artificial or synthetic substance is compatible with a “natural” claim only if one can demonstrate that consumers normally expect the substance to be present. Awareness of the presence of the substance among manufacturers is irrelevant.”
The case is just the latest in a mass of complaints over manufacturers’ use of the word ‘natural’. Most recently, General Mills was targeted with a complaint over its ‘100% Natural’ Nature Valley products, on the grounds that they contain high maltose corn syrup and maltodextrin.