Californian plaintiff Katie Kane has filed her second amended complaint against Greek yogurt giant Chobani accusing it of violating federal law by claiming its yogurts have “no sugar added” despite the fact they contain evaporated cane juice (dried sugar cane syrup).
The original Kane v Chobani proposed class action lawsuit was filed in the northern district of California on May 14 by Pratt & Associates LLP. The second amended complaint, filed on October 10, includes additional plaintiffs Darla Booth and Arianna Rosales.
A third of the calories come from added sugar
According to the plaintiffs, “Chobani’s inclusion of evaporated cane juice – which is nothing more than refined sugar or syrup that has been added to the yogurt – is in violation of federal and California law and directly contradicts its ‘no sugar added’ assurances.”
They add: “In truth, evaporated cane juice is little different than added white sugar. White sugar and evaporated cane juice both have 111 calories per ounce. Both types of sugar come from the same cane crop, and are about 99% sucrose.”
To put this into perspective, they add, the 13-21g (depending on the yogurt flavor) of sugars listed on the nutrition panel are not derived wholly from lactose (milk sugar) and fruit in the yogurts “but are predominantly (1-3 teaspoons per six-ounce container) from refined sugar or syrup that has been added to the yogurt”.
In other words, they said, “roughly one-third of the misbranded food products’ total calories come from processed sugar with no nutritional benefit.”
The sugar in the yogurts is not all naturally derived from lactose or fruit
However, when asked the question, Does Chobani Champions contain extra sugar?’ in the FAQ section of its Chobani Champions Kids website, the company says:
“No way! Just because Champions is made for kids doesn’t mean that we need to add extra sugar. You won’t find any high fructose corn syrup or artificial ingredients, flavors, or colors in our yogurt. Just low-fat milk sourced from local-area farms; real fruit, lightly sweetened with evaporated cane juice; pure clover honey (in our Honey-Nana flavor); live and active cultures; and probiotics.”
The FDA has specifically warned companies not to use term evaporated cane juice
The focus of the complaint, however, is Chobani’s use of the term ‘evaporated cane juice’ to describe dried syrup from cane sugar, despite the fact that the FDA has repeatedly told companies not to use the term in warning letters and produced draft guidance to this effect.
“The Nutrition Facts for Chobani’s Greek Yogurt, Pomegranate flavor, state that it has 19g of sugar, but the ingredient section fails to list ‘sugar’ or ‘dried cane syrup’ as an ingredient”, observed the complaint.
“Instead, it lists ‘evaporated cane juice’ as an ingredient despite the fact the FDA has specifically warned companies not to use this term because 1) it is ‘false and misleading’; 2) it violates a number of labeling regulations designed to ensure manufacturers label their products with the common and usual names of the ingredients they use…; and 3) the ingredient in question is not a juice.
“In other marketing literature, Chobani represents that evaporated cane juice is ‘a natural type of unrefined sweetener’ and fails to disclose the fact that evaporated cane juice is, in its ordinary and commonly understood terms, sugar and/or dried cane syrup.”
Chobani: We have built our business on being authentic and transparent
Finally, Chobani’s use of the term ‘all-natural ingredients’ is also misleading because it uses color additives in its products, even though they are from natural sources, said the complaint.
“21 C.F.R. § 70.3(f) makes clear that ‘where a food substance such as beet juice is deliberately used as a color, as in pink lemonade, it is a color additive’. Similarly, any coloring or preservative can preclude the use of the term ‘natural’ even if the coloring or preservative is derived from natural sources.”
Chobani vice president corporate communication told FoodNavigator-USA: "We have built our business on being authentic and transparent, and fully stand behind our products.”