LA Superior Court approves preliminary “natural claim” settlement in flax beverage case

By Adi Menayang contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Class action

The word natural isn't as prominent (or nowhere) on the current package design of Good Karma's Flax Milk, which according to a press release, was launched in 2016. The class action suit for the natural claim was filed against the company in 2014. Photo from goodkarmafoods.com
The word natural isn't as prominent (or nowhere) on the current package design of Good Karma's Flax Milk, which according to a press release, was launched in 2016. The class action suit for the natural claim was filed against the company in 2014. Photo from goodkarmafoods.com
As many courts are putting “natural claim” class action lawsuits on ice as the FDA probes what the term “natural” means, some companies are settling to avoid the expense and uncertainty of litigation.

One such example is Colorado-based Good Karma Foods​, which has agreed to a $350,000 settlement and labeling restrictions [to stop using the term 'all-natural' or 'natural' on the offending products, to resolve a class action lawsuit​ over 'natural' claims, although it has not admitted any liability.

Californian Larry Tran had been purchasing Good Karma FlaxMilk for a while. Attracted to the product’s claim of being 'natural' on the packaging, Tran felt that he was “misled and deceived by​ [Good Karma]’s misbranded products and label representations,”​ the court document​ said, when he studied the ingredient list and read that the flax beverage contained Tricalcium Phosphate, Xanthan Gum, and Vitamin A Palmitate, among other things.

Tran filed a class action lawsuit in 2014 (and apparently, according to Perkins Coie's blog Food Litigation News​, five other lawsuits against different companies in the same year over natural claims).

The Los Angeles Superior Court has given a preliminary approval to the settlement, with a final approval hearing scheduled for Aug. 25, 2016.

FDA’s probe on 'natural'

According to court filings, the plaintiff argued that “a reasonable consumer would expect that a product labeled as 'NATURAL' does not contain any artificial, synthetic, or extensively processed ingredients.”

But the words 'artificial' and 'processed' are subject to interpretation themselves. The FDA recently opened a comment period for consumers and the industry to define 'natural' on food labels. The comment period closed last week, and the agency is now left with a gargantuan pile​ of submissions with differing positions​ to sift through.

Natural may become a synonym to organic

In any case, consumers have high yet vague expectations of what natural can mean, as seen by the array of comments submitted.  

The future of many class action cases that have been put on hold during the probe are still uncertain, as the FDA’s decision based on the comments can lead to anything.

Good Karma’s agreement with the plaintiffs amounts to $350,000, and a potential award of up to $30 to any consumer who bought the product between Oct. 20, 2010 and May 30, 2015 (and who still has the proof of purchase).

The case is Larry Tran, et al. v. Good Karma Food Technologies, Inc., et al. (Los Angeles Superior Court Case No. BC561218).

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