A court in the Southern District of New York recently dismissed a lawsuit alleging that an “All Natural” representation on the front label of defendant’s beverage products was false and misleading because the products contained synthetic citric acid and used vegetable and fruit juice concentrates for color.  Valencia v. Snapple Beverage Corp., 2024 WL 1158476 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 18, 2024).

Plaintiff alleged that the “All Natural” representation on the label was misleading because it used citric acid, “an industrially produced, synthetic ingredient.”  The court held that this generalized allegation about the production of citric acid was not sufficient to adequately allege the citric acid used in defendant’s products was indeed industrially produced.  The court observed that plaintiff did not, for example, allege that they tested the product to confirm the citric acid was synthetic.  Even if this conclusory statement was sufficient to allege that the products contained the industrially produced citric acid, the court added, it was not clear a reasonable consumer would regard the industrially-produced version as unnatural.  The court reasoned that the industrially-produced citric acid was derived from Aspergillus niger, which is itself natural.  Additionally, plaintiff only alleged that synthetic agents were used in the process of producing the citric acid, but did not allege that the resulting citric acid contained synthetic agents.  Finally, plaintiff did not describe how the citric acid derived from Aspergillus niger differed chemically from the citric acid derived from fruits.  As a result, the court concluded, plaintiff failed to adequately allege that the citric acid in the products rendered the “All Natural” statement misleading.

Plaintiff also alleged that the “All Natural” representation was misleading because the beverage contained vegetable and fruit juice concentrates for coloring.  Plaintiff contended that consumers would not expect “All Natural” beverages to contain added coloring even if the coloring came from natural sources.  The court disagreed, reasoning that it was not plausible that a reasonable consumer would think that adding a natural product—vegetable and fruit juice concentrates—to a natural product renders the product not natural.  Finally, the court noted that if any consumers were confused as to whether “All Natural” meant that the products contained natural ingredients for colors, they could read the ingredients lists, which would clarify their understanding. This decision will be helpful for the many food and beverages companies that face (or have been threatened with) class action litigation regarding their use of citric acid and concentrates.

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Photo of Kaixin Fan Kaixin Fan

Kaixin Fan is a member of the Litigation and Investigation and the Food, Drug, and Device Practice Groups. She has advised clients in various high-stakes disputes, including clients in the food, beverage, and consumer packaged goods industries in matters implicating consumer protection statutes.

Kaixin Fan is a member of the Litigation and Investigation and the Food, Drug, and Device Practice Groups. She has advised clients in various high-stakes disputes, including clients in the food, beverage, and consumer packaged goods industries in matters implicating consumer protection statutes. Kaixin also has experience in advising clients in complex investigations and counseling life sciences clients on FDA regulatory matters.

Kaixin maintains an active pro bono practice, with experience in the areas of housing, reproductive rights, and gender-based violence.

Photo of Cort Lannin Cort Lannin

Cortlin Lannin is a litigator who defends clients in high-stakes complex matters, specializing in class action cases implicating consumer protection and competition claims. He approaches his matters with efficiency and creativity, developing thoughtful strategies to resolve cases and investigations early and on favorable…

Cortlin Lannin is a litigator who defends clients in high-stakes complex matters, specializing in class action cases implicating consumer protection and competition claims. He approaches his matters with efficiency and creativity, developing thoughtful strategies to resolve cases and investigations early and on favorable terms.

On behalf of a range of clients in the food, beverage, and consumer packaged goods industries, Cort has navigated pre-complaint disputes and defended multiple class actions implicating deceptive and false advertising practices under California’s UCL, FAL, and CLRA, and other states’ false advertising and unfair competition laws. Cort also has a depth of experience with competition matters, having represented clients in civil class action litigation, non-public governmental investigations of both the civil and criminal variety, and internal investigations. He has had a lead role in cases and investigations implicating the high tech industry, alleged “no-poach” agreements, and price-fixing and similar cartel conduct. He is also a leader in the antitrust bar and the recent chair of the Antitrust Section of the Bar Association of San Francisco.

Cort is a co-chair of Covington’s LGBT+ Affinity Group and is deeply involved in the firm’s efforts to recruit, mentor, and promote diverse attorneys, including LGBT+ attorneys.

Prior to joining Covington, Cort was a national political consultant who specialized in polling and focus group research. He leverages this research background in his litigation practice, particularly in defending consumer cases.