Judge won't dismiss lawsuit over General Mills fruit snacks

  • Article by: MIKE HUGHLETT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 11, 2012 - 6:57 PM

Judge rules 'reasonable consumer'' could be confused by fruit content in roll-ups

The fruitiness of the Fruit Roll-Up may end up on trial in a California court.

A federal judge in San Francisco has denied a bid by General Mills Inc. to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that its popular fruit snacks are deceptively marketed, saying a "reasonable consumer" might be confused by the products' actual fruit content.

The judge's ruling Thursday involves General Mills' Fruit Roll-Ups and Fruit by the Foot snacks, which are particularly big with children. A California woman, Annie Lam, sued the Golden Valley-based packaged foods giant last fall, claiming it was misleading consumers about fruit snacks' healthiness.

Specifically, Lam alleged that the marketing claim "made with real fruit" incorrectly describes the fruit snacks' ingredients, which include "pears from concentrate," rather than the type of fruit actually named on the product's packaging.

A "reasonable consumer" might make inaccurate assumptions about fruit snacks based on the statement "made with real fruit," ruled U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti, pointing to Strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups as an example.

Packaging statements "might lead a reasonable consumer to believe that [the] product is made with real strawberries, not pears from concentrate," Conti wrote. "The names 'Fruit Roll-Ups' and 'Fruit by the Foot,' along with the fanciful depiction of these products, which resemble fruit leather, may lead to further confusion about the Fruit Snacks' ingredients."

General Mills claims its description of fruit snacks is expressly permitted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The company has also argued that "made with real fruit" is an objectively true statement and that a reasonable consumer wouldn't interpret it to mean specific fruits were present.

The company Friday declined to comment to Conti's ruling, saying that as a practice, it doesn't comment on pending litigation.

The fruit snacks suit, which seeks class-action status, was filed with the aid of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a food labeling watchdog group.

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003

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