Having filed multiple lawsuits over the past year against brands such as Health-Ade, Humm, and GT’s Living Foods, Tortilla Factory — the parent company of Kombucha Dog — filed complaints against an additional four kombucha brands earlier this week, alleging that third party testing showed higher sugar and alcohol levels than labeled.
Trader Joe’s, The Bu, Better Booch and Rowdy Mermaid were named in separate complaints, filed in California by Kombucha Dog on April 9. According to the lawsuits, third party testing conducted within the last six months using “headspace gas chromatography combined with mass spectrometry” found that kombucha sold by each brand respectively had alcohol by volume (ABV) levels of 1.1-2.2 percent, 0.6-1.9 percent, 1.9-2.7 percent, and 1.00-1.2 percent. The legal limit required by U.S. law for a product to be considered non-alcoholic is 0.5 percent ABV.
Test results also allegedly showed higher sugar content than each brand stated on its labels. The complaint did not indicate what testing method was used to determine sugar content or the difference between the stated and actual sugar content in the product, only that the printed levels were “highly unlikely” in a kombucha product.
Kombucha Dog, the suits allege, wants a level playing field. The California-based brand contains about 1.4 percent alcohol per 8 oz. serving, and having other kombuchas on the market containing alcohol puts the company at a retail disadvantage.
“One of the reasons we’re doing this, and by we I mean [company founder] Michael Faye and Kombucha Dog, is to affect change in the industry,” said LevatoLaw attorney Stephen Weisskopf, who is representing Faye in all cases. “It needs change. It needs the bright light of sunshine to expose what’s going on.”
In addition to creating an unfair advantage in the marketplace, Weisskopf also stressed the public safety risk inaccurately-labeled levels of alcohol in kombucha can pose, particularly to children, pregnant women, and recovering alcoholics.
Kombucha Dog filed similar suits against kombucha companies Health-Ade, GT’s Living Foods and Humm last year, which are still ongoing. Since then, Weisskopf said, several consumer class actions have appeared targeting kombucha makers.
“I would venture to guess that those are as a result of seeing the complaint that we filed,” he said. “And once you get a handful of plaintiff lawyers interested in those kind of cases they tend to pop up all over the place.”
The Bu and Better Booch did not return calls by BevNET. Trader Joe’s and Rowdy Mermaid declined to comment for this article.
Although the suits against GT’s, Health-Ade, and Humm were filed months earlier, Weisskopf said all suits are still in the “very early” stages. He added that there may be more suits to come.
“The industry is going to have to take a hard look at itself and may have to make some hard choices and hard decisions going forward,” he said.