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Trader Joe’s seeks to conceal added sugars with term ‘evaporated cane juice’, says lawsuit

7 commentsBy Elaine WATSON , 01-Apr-2013
Last updated the 13-Apr-2013 at 00:03 GMT

Trader Joe’s hit with evaporated cane juice lawsuit

Trader Joe’s has become the latest firm to be hit with a class action lawsuit alleging it 'conceals' added sugar by listing it on pack as ‘evaporated cane juice’.

A lawsuit filed by Pratt & Associates LLP - which sued Chobani on similar grounds last year - says Trader Joe’s uses the term ‘evaporated cane juice’ instead of the more accurate terms ‘dried sugar cane syrup’ or ‘sugar’ on several private label products from Greek-style yogurt to soy milk, despite the fact that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has repeatedly told firms not to use it.

The complaint, filed on behalf of California residents Amy Gitson, Christine Vodicka and Deborah Ross on March 25 in a federal court in California, says the FDA has sent out multiple warning letters and produced draft guidance specifically telling food manufacturers not to use the term ‘evaporated cane juice’ because it is “false and misleading” and is not in fact a juice.

The plaintiffs were misled by the defendant’s use of the term ‘milk’ in connection with its soy beverages

Additionally, evaporated cane juice is not on the list of nutritive carbohydrate sweeteners permitted for use in yogurt under the FDA’s standard of identity for yogurt, allege Gitson et al

They also allege that Trader Joe’s falsely describes products as having ‘no added coloring or preservatives’ when in fact several, “including French Village Strawberry non-fat yogurt, have artificial coloring and a number… including chocolate peanut butter salted caramel truffles, have added chemical preservatives”.

Evaporated cane juice is dried syrup from cane sugar

Finally, Trader Joe’s also misleads shoppers by representing non-dairy calcium products as ‘milk’, they argue.

The plaintiffs were misled by the defendant’s use of the term ‘milk’ in connection with its soy beverages [Trader Joe’s organic chocolate soy milk]. Defendant’s actions illegal mislead the public by inappropriately employing names and terms reserved by law for standardized dairy products.”

In truth, evaporated cane juice is little different than added white sugar

The language in the complaint echoes that in a lawsuit filed against Greek yogurt giant Chobani by Californian plaintiff Katie Kane last year, which notes that: “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.”

Chobani: To any reasonable consumer, the word 'cane' in the ingredient list indicates a sweetener ingredient

In a motion to dismiss Kane's lawsuit filed in November 2012, Chobani said that the FDA's 2009 guidance advising firms not to use the term evaporated cane juice is "a draft" and "non-binding" from a legal perspective. 

Meanwhile, it "is not plausible that a reasonable consumer would be deceived" by the term evaporated cane juice added Chobani, which said that in any case, the plaintiff's state law claims are preempted by federal labeling laws.  

It added: "Plaintiffs cannot plausibly claim that they were unaware that 'evaporated cane juice' is a sweetener.

"To any reasonable consumer (and especially a consumer with the apparent concerns over the source of sugars these plaintiffs allegedly had), the word 'cane' in the ingredient list indicates a sweetener ingredient. This is particularly true for plaintiffs who allege that they knew 'dried cane syrup' was a sweetener ingredient and, therefore, cannot plead ignorance about evaporated cane juice."

Chobani: Evaporated cane juice is permitted in yogurt

As for the issue of whether evaporated cane juice is a permitted sweetener in yogurt, Chobani said the "FDA has proposed a new standard of identity for yogurt that allows any 'safe and suitable sweetening ingredients'. (74 F.R. 2443, 2455: Jan. 15, 2009). Evaporated cane juice is unquestionably a 'safe and suitable sweetening ingredient'.

"Significantly, the FDA has also suggested that it will not enforce violations of the current standard of identity (relied on by plaintiffs) if companies comply with the proposed one (in which evaporated cane juice is unquestionable permitted)."

Trader Joe’s - which is based in California and has 370 stores nationwide - said it did not wish to comment on the lawsuit (Gitson v. Trader Joe’s Co., No. 13-1333 (U.S. District Court, Northern District, California, San Francisco Division). 

A spokeswoman said: "Trader Joe's does not comment on pending litigation."

7 comments (Comments are now closed)

Concerned Citizen

If you would take the time to actually read the article, the FDA did not bring this lawsuit forward. It was a group looking for a quick buck again. The FDA filed Warning Letters, per procedure, informing TJ and others that the term they were using for sugar was not allowed.

The Ca women filed suits after the fact, that they were mislead. Ever wonder why these lawsuits are filed AFTER the FDA issues Warning Letters?

This is another example of a quick buck scheme. Hoping the companies will settle and they can move on to another 'sweet' deal.

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Posted by Mike
08 April 2013 | 14h16

This is stupid

I think the FDA is targeting Trader Joes because of the grocers stance on GMOs. I don't feel like the FDA is looking out for consumers safety with such a frivolous lawsuit, but is targeting Trader Joes for not supporting Monsanto.

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Posted by Concerned Citizen
05 April 2013 | 18h24

about sugars

sugar is sugar is sugar. people should read labels. cane sugar, dried cane sugar, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, maltose, lactose, brown sugar, turbinado sugar, etc. either is it there or not. don't eat added sugars if you don't want to.

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Posted by Judy Tiger
05 April 2013 | 15h56

Read all comments (7)

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