Welch’s fruit snacks are ‘no more healthful than candy’, says false advertising lawsuit

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Welch's fruit snacks: A healthier snack or candy by any other name?
Welch's fruit snacks: A healthier snack or candy by any other name?

Related tags: Fruit snacks, Snack foods

Welch’s fruit snacks are candy masquerading as healthy snacks, says a false advertising lawsuit filed in New York.

In the complaint*, filed on Friday, plaintiffs Aliza Atik and Winnie Lau argue that the snacks – which they say contain “mostly a combination of corn syrup, sugar, modified corn starch, juice from concentrate, artificial flavors and dyes​” – contain “minimal amounts​” of the “vibrantly depicted​” fruits on the label and “are no more healthful than candy”.

While the first ingredient in some of the snacks is juice from concentrates** the second, third and fourth ingredients are corn syrup, sugar and modified corn starch, says the complaint, which notes that the regular fruit snacks contain no fiber and 40%+ sugar (eg. the mixed fruit snack contains 11g sugar per 25.5g serving, or 43% sugar), while the PB&J snacks contain 53% sugar.

Meanwhile, the vitamins advertised on the front of the pack - which features the slogan ‘made with real fruit’ – are added to the snacks, and are not, as is implied, derived from the fruit, it says: "[The snacks are] devoid of the health benefits plaintiffs and other reasonable consumers associate with consuming real fruit.​”

The plaintiffs add: “Welch Foods has deceived shoppers by engaging in a deceptive marketing campaign to convince consumers that Welch’s Fruit Snacks contained significant amounts of the actual fruits shown in the marketing and on the labeling of the products, were nutritious and healthful to consume, and were more healthful than similar products.” 

Steve Gardner: ‘Basically, the fortification rule says not to add vitamins to crap’

Specifically, they allege, Welch’s is violating federal food labeling requirement 21 C.F.R 102.5*** by failing to display the percentage of fruit in the product name on the front of the label.

Welch’s is also violating the so-called ‘jelly bean rule’ enshrined in 21 C.F.R. 104.20, in which the FDA says it does not consider it appropriate to fortify “snack foods such as candies and carbonated beverages​”, argues the lawsuit.

Asked whether the fruit snacks were the equivalent of 'candies', Stephen Gardner, who heads the food law practice at the Stanley Law Group of Dallas, Texas, and is representing the plaintiffs along with the Richman Law Group, told FoodNavigator-USA: “These products are in fact snack foods masquerading as health foods."

Ingredients list Welch's strawberry fruit snacks
Ingredients list: Welch's strawberry fruit snacks

He added: “The judge in our Vitaminwater case ​[in a previous life as head of litigation at the CSPI, Gardner sued Coca-Cola over claims made about Vitaminwater] effectively… found that the fortification policy applied to Vitaminwater, which also is neither a candy nor a carbonated beverage."

He added:  “Basically, the fortification rule says not to add vitamins to crap, and Welch’s has done that every bit as much as Coke did.”

Welch's fruit snacks
According to a lawsuit filed in New York this month, Welch’s is a trusted brand that parents have come to associate with 100% fruit juice and grapes: “Welch’s is one of the most respected and well-known names in the world when it comes to 100% fruit juice and grapes. Plaintiffs and other reasonable consumers trust the Welch’s name when it comes to expecting healthy, fruit-based snacks for their children.”

There are other things that do have actual fruit in them

Asked to address the argument that juice concentrate is still from ‘real fruit’ and that if you wanted a snack that primarily comprised real fruit, you should go to the produce department, Gardner said:

There are other things that do have actual fruit in them, but are still a long way from the produce aisle. Smoothies come to mind.”

Nutrition Facts Welch's strawberry fruit snacks
Nutrition Facts: Welch's strawberry fruit snacks. Source: Company website

Asked about juice concentrates, he said: “When fruit juices are used, they are often stripped of anything that organoleptically qualified as fruit. Even pure juices are mostly sugar, which is why nutritionists generally advise to limit their consumption.”

Promotion in Motion: Fruit, whether in the form of juices or purees, has always been the first ingredient in Welch’s Fruit Snacks

However, Promotion in Motion, which manufactures and markets the snacks under license for Welch Foods, told FoodNavigator-USA that it "stands behind all of our Welch’s Fruit Snacks products and packaging".

A spokesperson added: "It is a fact that fruit, whether in the form of juices or more recently purees, has always been the first ingredient in Welch’s Fruit Snacks. Our labeling is truthful and gives consumers the information they need to make informed decisions. For nearly 15 years, we have been proud to bring consumers snacks made with the highest quality ingredients, that consistently meet and even exceed quality standards and FDA regulation.

"The legal complaint against Welch’s Fruit Snacks is false and misleading, and we will defend the brand with the facts and record behind us."

*The case is Atik and Lau et al vs Welch Foods Inc., a cooperative, and the Promotion in Motion Companies Inc No. 1:15-cv-05405 filed in the eastern district of New York.​  

**Promotion in Motion says it is gradually reformulating the snacks such that fruit puree - rather than juice concentrate - is the first ingredient across the portfolio. So, for example, the website​ shows that juice from concentrates are still the top ingredient in the strawberry fruit snacks, while fruit puree is the top ingredient in the Island Fruits variant.

ingredients-if
Some varieties of the fruit snacks now feature fruit purees as the #1 ingredient, such as the Island Fruits variety.

A spokesperson said: "For years, a number of Welch’s Fruit Snacks products have had fruit purees as the first ingredient. In recent months, Promotion In Motion has expanded the use of fruit purees as the first ingredient across the portfolio of Welch’s Fruit Snacks."

However, Steve Gardner told us: "Even if they are in the process of changing, that doesn’t excuse the millions of dollars they’ve already ripped off from consumers."

***21 C.F.R 102.5 states ​that “The common or usual name of a food shall include the percentage(s) of any characterizing ingredient(s) or component(s) when the proportion of such ingredient(s) or component(s) in the food has a material bearing on price or consumer acceptance or when the labeling or the appearance of the food may otherwise create an erroneous impression that such ingredient(s) or component(s) is present in an amount greater than is actually the case.”

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6 comments

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welches fruit snakes

Posted by Sonja,

it doesn't take a nutritionist to turn a box around and read the ingredient label as well as the nutrition label and look at the sugar content to realize its nothing more than fruit flavored candy. my suggestion is: rather than buy these "fruit snacks", just buy fresh fruit. how many thousands of nutrition and just good old fashioned common sense does it take before people jump on the bandwagon and start eating real food instead of processed prepackaged garbage all in the name of "convenience". and its beyond the nutrition or lack thereof in these products; think about the environmental cost of these packaged snacks. eating a fresh apple is always better than snack size packages of applesauce or slices. Come on people- WAKE UP!!! the closer to a foods natural state we eat it (especially fruits) the better it is for us. that way we get ALL the nutrients in it. and the best part about eating real fruit, you can toss an apple core out the window and nature will take care of the core- ants, and a host of other insects will take care of disposing it for you.

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Worse Yet - Made in Spain

Posted by Harry Sabres,

Furthermore, as far as deceptive advertising, you think you are getting a product from an American farmer, as part of cooperative per Welch’s claim. I once tried to buy these from Amazon and they said Welch's Fruit Chews MADE IN SPAIN!

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An ignorant consumer is our best customer

Posted by Haywood Jablowme,

I can see how the packaging and messaging can dupe (uninformed)consumers into thinking there is significant fruit content in these.
Given the rest of the free world are removing them, I am surprised these numbskulls are still using the FD&C dyes.

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