The Kellogg Company and its subsidiary Kashi have been accused of inappropriately marketing products as natural, according to a class action lawsuit filed in a southern Californian district court.
Plaintiff Michael Bates, on behalf of a national class of consumers who have purchased Kashi products, claims that Kashi products have been labeled as ‘all-natural’ and/or containing ‘nothing artificial’ since at least 1999, but that many of the ingredients used in these products are synthetic or unnaturally processed.
In particular, the lawsuit cites the example of Kashi’s GoLean Shakes, saying they are composed “almost entirely of synthetic and unnaturally processed ingredients”, listing sodium molybdate, phytonadione and sodium selenite, and “other substances that have been declared to be synthetic substances by federal regulations.”
Soy Protein Concentrate, Evaporated Cane Juice, Gum Acacia, Cocoa Treated With Alkali, Calcium Carbonate, Natural Flavor, Calcium Phosphate, Soy Lecithin, Carrageenan, Chicory Root Fiber, Magnesium Phosphate, Uva Ursi (Bearberry Extract), Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Grape Seed Extract, Panax Ginseng, Niacinamide, Alpha Tocopherol Acetate, Calcium Pantothenate, Zinc Oxide, Vitamin A Palmitate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Thiamin Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Whey Caseinate, Folic Acid, Biotin, Potassium Iodide, Sodium Molybdate, Vitamin K (Phytonadione), Sodium Selenite, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12
In an emailed statement, senior nutritionist and natural lifestyle expert at Kashi Jeff Johnson said the company stands by its claims.
He said: “Kashi provides comprehensive information about our foods to enable people to make well-informed choices. We stand behind our advertising and labeling practices.”
The suit claims that Kashi products aim to take advantage of a booming market for all-natural foods and beverages – a market that has continued to grow, even as shoppers’ interest in ‘minus’ claims (such as low-fat) and ‘plus’ claims (such as added functional ingredients) has decreased, according to Mintel. The market research organization’s Global New Products Database shows that the percentage of global product launches carrying a ‘natural’ claim – including no artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, or additives – has increased from 26 percent of new launches in 2005 to over a third in 2009.
This is not the first time that a food company has been the subject of a class action suit over the use of the term ‘natural’. In June, two class action lawsuits were filed against ConAgra for marketing its Wesson range of cooking oils as ‘100% natural’ and ‘pure’ although they contain genetically modified ingredients. That case is ongoing.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates the labeling of most packaged food products, currently has no definition for the term ‘natural’, but it has said that a product is not natural if it contains synthetic or artificial ingredients.
The precise regulatory meaning of the word natural is still open to interpretation.