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Chobani facing lawsuit over ‘evaporated cane juice’ labelling violation

By Mark Astley , 28-May-2012

Yogurt manufacturer Chobani Inc. is facing legal action in the US over claims that its use of the term ‘evaporated cane juice’ on its Greek yogurt products violates federal and state food labelling laws.

The lawsuit, which was filed at the US District Court for the Northern District of California, contests Chobani’s use of the labelling terms ‘evaporated cane juice’, ‘all natural ingredients’ and ‘only natural ingredients’ to describe its 18 flavours of Greek yogurt products. 

The US-based yogurt manufacturer lists ‘evaporated cane juice’ as an ingredient despite warnings from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) not to use the “false and misleading” term as it is in violation of federal labelling regulations.

According to the court document, which was filed by California consumer Katie Kane, Chobani failed to disclose that ‘evaporated cane juice’ is commonly referred as sugar or dried cane syrup.

Kane felt compelled to file the lawsuit “in order to remedy the harm arising from Defendant’s illegal conduct, which has resulted in unjust profits.”

Misbranded foods

According to the court document, federal and California state food labelling laws forbid the use of ‘natural’ labelling if the product contains artificial ingredients, flavouring, colouring or chemical preservatives.

The document alleges that Chobani made false claims in violation of these laws to actively promote the “naturalness and health benefits of its products” and drive sales.

“For example, the Nutrition Facts for Chobani’s Greek Yogurt, Pomegranate flavour, state that it has 19 grams of sugar, but the ingredient section fails to list ‘sugar’ and/or ‘dried cane syrup’ as an ingredient,” said the court document.

“If a manufacturer is going to make a claim on a food label, the label must meet certain legal requirements that help consumers make informed choices and ensure that they are not misled.”

Every day, millions of Americans purchase and consume packaged foods. Identical federal and California laws require truthful, accurate information on the labels of packaged foods. This case is about companies that flout those laws,” added the document.

“The law is clear: misbranded food cannot legally be manufactured, held, advertised, distributed or sold. Misbranded food is worthless as a matter of law, and purchasers of misbranded food are entitled to a refund of its refunded price.”

False and deceptive claims

“In promoting the naturalness and health benefits of its Misbranded Food Products, Defendant claims to understand the importance of communicating responsibly about its products,” said the document.

“Nevertheless, Defendant has made, and continues to make false and deceptive claims on its Misbranded Food Products in violation of federal and California laws that govern the types of representations that can be made on food labels,” it added.

The lawsuit is the second involving Chobani in as many months.

In April 2012, yogurt giant Danone began legal action in an attempt to put an end to a one-year Canadian import permit, which allows Chobani to pay a reduced duty of just 5% on imports of Greek yogurt from the US.

The usual tariff is applied to yogurt producers who don’t use Canadian milk or do not manufacture products in the country.

Danone filed the lawsuit in contest of Chobani’s exemption from the tariff.

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