Yet another beverage brand that uses “all natural” to describe its formulation has been targeted by a lawsuit seeking class action status. Pure Leaf, a line of bottled iced teas produced by PepsiCo in a joint partnership with Unilever, is the latest brand under scrutiny with plaintiffs in two separate lawsuits each of which allege that because the products use citric acid — an ingredient that can be synthetically created — as a preservative, they are being falsely marketed as “all natural.”
The first lawsuit was filed in April by Florida resident Michael Laboon, according to TopClassActions.com, a website that covers class action lawsuit news. Laboon claims that Unilever and PepsiCo deceptively labels Pure Leaf beverages as “natural” despite the use of “unnatural ingredients, which are synthetic, artificial, and/or genetically modified, including but not limited to Citric Acid and/or ‘Natural Flavor.’”
“Unfortunately for consumers, they were charged, and paid, a price premium for these alleged ‘All Natural’ Products, over other Products that did not claim to be ‘All Natural,’” the lawsuit reads. “In addition, or as an alternative thereto, Plaintiff and members of the Class would not have purchased the Products but for the ‘All Natural’ claim, and as a result, Plaintiff and members of the Class suffered damages in the total amount of the purchase price of the Products(s) they have purchased.”
Laboon filed his case in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida and is seeking class action certification that would include: “all persons who purchased the Products within the State of Florida, for personal use and not resale, during the time-period extending from April 29, 2011 to the present.”
Within a few weeks of Laboon’s lawsuit, a similar one was filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York. Momo Ren, a New York resident, is the lead plaintiff in the proposed class action lawsuit, which claims that the citric acid used in Pure Leaf drinks is not extracted from citrus fruits, but instead “manufactured through citric acid bacteria fermentation and is classified by the USDA as a ‘synthetic allowed’ substance, and therefore PepsiCo and Unilever… are violating federal and state consumer protection laws against misbranding,” according to Law360.com.
While Pure Leaf’s Facebook page explains that citric acid provides tartness for the drinks, Ren claims that the manufacturers use the ingredient as a preservative, despite labeling the products with the phrases “All Natural” and “No Preservatives” and a campaign touting Pure Leaf beverages as “nothing but all natural, freshly brewed tea from tea leaves.”
“By marketing the products as being ‘All Natural’ and free of preservatives, defendants wrongfully capitalized on and reaped enormous profits from consumers’ strong preference for food products made entirely of natural ingredients and free of preservatives,” the lawsuit reads.
Ren, who is represented by C.K. Lee of Lee Litigation Group, alleges that PepsiCo and Unilever are in violation of the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and a similar New York state law and is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
The lawsuits follow a number of other cases in which “all natural” claims have been scrutinized, including those involving Zico, Xing Tea, Simply Orange and Naked Juice, all of which use the terms “natural” or “all-natural” in marketing of their brands. Earlier this year, Hain Celestial was accused of misleading consumers by marketing some of its tea products as “100 percent natural,” despite their inclusion of genetically modified ingredients.
Two years, AriZona Beverage Co. dodged a bullet when a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit that claimed the company was duping consumers by labeling its products as all-natural. The case focused on the beverages’ formulation, which include high fructose corn syrup and citric acid, but was tossed because plaintiffs’ attorneys were unable to prove that the ingredients are artificial.