A $6.1 million final settlement was reached in a class action lawsuit against Cargill, Inc. The company falsely labeled and advertised Truvia Sweetener products as made primarily from all-natural ingredients. However, the sweetener contained all chemical and synthetic based ingredients.
The company will fund the settlement for distribution to consumers who purchased the product anytime during a six-year period, from early 2008 until July 2014.
The plaintiffs claimed that no reasonable consumer would consider Truvia to be a natural product. The plaintiffs argued they relied on misrepresentations that Truvia was all-natural compared to other alternative sweeteners. Along with other state law violations, the plaintiffs claimed unjust enrichment, violation of consumer fraud, and a violation of the deceptive practices act.
Cargill denied that its marketing, advertising, and labeling techniques violated any legal requirements.
In an effort to appeal to consumers healthy choices, Cargill, Inc. joined with Coca-Cola Company to produce a natural, calorie free sweetener for food and drinks.
Many consumers use alternative sweeteners for health concerns or personal preference. To date there are five FDA approved artificial sweeteners:
The complaint stated that the stevia-derived ingredient -- Rebaudioside A or Reb A -- made up only 1 percent of Truvia. In fact, Reb A went through a multi-step process to make a purified form of the extract. The process included the addition of ethanol or rubbing alcohol.
The main ingredient in Truvia is Erythritol, a synthetic ingredient marketed as a chemical “found in grapes and pears.” Although the chemical is naturally found in some fruits, the type used in Truvia was not same process that nature produces.
Currently, the FDA does not provide a definition of "natural." However a company can use the term even if a product contains artificial flavors or synthetic substances.
Cargill's false and misleading advertising allowed the company to charge customers a premium price of $3.99 per package versus $2.49 per package charged for other leading sweeteners.
In response to the settlement a Cargill representative stated the company believed the claims lacked merit or substance and the settlement allowed them to focus attention on the products and consumers, according to Food Navigator.
In addition to the settlement Cargill, has also agreed to change the product labels. The modification will add either an asterisk to its "natural calorie-free sweetener" statement, which will lead consumers to the companies website or the tagline will be changed completely. There is no mention of the company changing the product ingredients, instead the description of the main ingredient, Eythritol will be modified to make it more realistic.
Consumers are entitled to receive up to $45 in cash or $90 in vouchers, according to the settlement.
Class members were represented by lead attorneys Joseph P. Guglielmo and Erin Green Comite of Scott and Scott LLP.
The case is Denise Howerton, Erin Calderon and Ruth Pasarell, Individually and on Behalf of All Others Similarly Situated vs. Cargill Inc., case number 1:13-cv-00336, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii.