General Mills is facing another labeling lawsuit from consumers who claim they were misled by claims made by the food manufacturer on its cereal boxes.
The Golden Valley-based food giant is among several Big Food companies to face a barrage of consumer lawsuits that all boil down to perceptions of health. The latest lawsuit, filed in U. S. District Court in California, alleges General Mills is duping consumers into believing its cereals are good for them, and hinges that argument on sugar content.
For its part, General Mills said “this lawsuit is without merit” and it is standing behind “the accuracy of the products’ labels.”
The plaintiffs, who are seeking class-action status for the case, argue that various label information on its cereals — like “whole grains,” “no high fructose corn syrup” and “fiber” — are misleading. Despite these claims being true, the plaintiffs’ lawyers say such benefits are offset by the sugar levels in the cereals.
“General Mills leverages a policy and practice of marketing high-sugar cereals, bars, other foods with health and wellness claims,” the lawsuit alleges. “These claims, however, are deceptive because they are incompatible with the significant dangers of the excessive added sugar.”
All of General Mills’ cereal boxes include a Nutrition Facts panel that spells out the ingredients and grams of sugar per serving.
“We are leading the way in increasing consumption of whole grain, and we currently offer 38 cereals with 9 grams of sugar or less per serving, including Cheerios with 1 gram of sugar,” said Mike Siemienas, a General Mills spokesman. “Our consumers have told us they want a variety of choices, and we are committed to continuing to deliver what our consumers want.”
The lawsuit comes on the heels of another case involving General Mills’ Cheerios Protein cereal that is still working its way through the federal courts in California. The consumer watchdog group that brought that lawsuit alleges the cereal does not have more protein than regular Cheerios, while General Mills argues the contrary.
“Cereal has long been established as a nutritious and wholesome way to start the day, and General Mills continues to stand behind the quality of these products,” the company said.
General Mills isn’t the only Big Food company facing labeling litigation. Kraft Heinz, Trader Joe’s, Quaker Oats, PepsiCo and Kellogg have all faced similar suits.
Legal experts are tracking this uptick of consumer suits. Many believe the courts will be forced to keep making these decisions until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration steps in to more clearly regulate when and how food firms can make certain claims.
Just last month, three consumer groups sued General Mills for calling the oats in its Nature Valley granola bars “100% natural.” That followed a 2014 lawsuit settlement where General Mills agreed it would not use the 100 percent natural label on products that contained high-fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin or other highly processed ingredients.
In July, Austin-based Hormel Foods was sued by an animal rights group for using the term on its “Natural Choice” lunch meats.
The FDA has not defined what “natural” means other than natural colors and flavors. In November, the agency solicited public comment on what consumers and companies believe it means — a sign that the regulators may step in soon and provide guidelines.