Charging that General Mills is misleading consumers about the nutrition and health qualities of its Fruit Snacks, the Center for Science in the Public Interest filed a class action suit in the U.S. District Court in the northern district of California.
"General Mills is giving consumers the false impression that these products are somehow more wholesome, and charging more. It's an elaborate hoax on parents who are trying to do right by their kids," says Steve Gardner, an attorney with Dallas-based Seema Rattan and the litigation director for CSPI, a Washington, D.C.-based health advocacy group that is also pushing for new voluntary federal guidelines for marketing food to children. "General Mills is basically dressing up a very cheap candy as if it were a fruit and charging a premium for it."
In its complaint, CSPI alleges that the labeling on the packages for the products—Fruit Roll-Ups, Fruit by the Foot, and Fruit Gushers specifically—imply that the food is a lot healthier than it really is. Fruit Snacks are labeled as "fruit flavored snack," "naturally flavored, a "good source of Vitamin C", a low number of calories, "low fat," and "gluten free."
The suit cites several California laws governing misleading and deceptive advertising and fraudulent business practices, as well as Minnesota's Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act. (General Mills is based in Golden Valley, Minn.)
"In fact, Defendant’s Fruit Snacks contained trans fat, added sugars, and artificial food dyes; lacked significant amounts of real, natural fruit; and had no dietary fiber. Thus, although the Products were marketed as being healthful and nutritious for children and adults alike, selling these Fruit Snacks was little better than giving candy to children," the complaint reads.
General Mills said it had yet to be served with any lawsuit.
"It would not be unusual for CSPI to put out a press release before actually serving a lawsuit," the company said in an emailed statement. "We stand behind our products, and we stand behind the accuracy of the labeling of those products."
This is the second lawsuit General Mills has faced for its Fruit Snacks. Last June, a Brooklyn woman sued the company for $5 million for misleading consumers about the health and nutrition qualities of Fruit Roll-Ups. The case, filed in the U.S. District Court for the southern district of New York, was voluntarily dismissed a month later by the plaintiff, who decided not to pursue the case.
In 2009, the Food and Drug Administration forced General Mills to discontinue misleading cholesterol and cancer-prevention claims on its Cheerios packaging.