Greenwashing?????

Below is an article from Triplepundit.com, its long but definitely worth a glance. The article mentions Nature Valley Trail Mix Bars….guess I have for a snack today…. Nature Valley Trail Mix Bars. It pays to be an informed consumer.

 

 

What does “natural” mean? The nature of this notoriously vague label is once again reaching the courts, this time in a lawsuit filed by two Californian women against General Mills. The plaintiffs claim, according to the New York Times, that General Mills has deceptively marketed its NatureValley products as natural when they contain highly processed ingredients, and therefore the company is liable for false advertising and anticompetitiveness.

This case is the latest in a number of lawsuits that have been filed lately against General Mills, accusing the company of using deceptive advertising for its products. In addition to the legal questions, this series of lawsuits brings other questions to mind – for example, does the label under debate violate the company’s commitment to ethics and intregity? And what does it mean for a company that prides itself on being responsible, or as its CEO puts it: “our approach to global responsibility is straightforward. It’s all about living our values – one of which is “We do the right thing, all the time.”?

This case is also important because it helps once again to bring to the public attention the debate around the “natural” label. Currently there are no legal requirements or restrictions for using the label “natural” on foods, and it can be a meaningless marketing term, but consumers nevertheless tend to value it. For some reason, as some surveys show, they even value it more than they value “organic” labels. Under these circumstances, is it any wonder that the “natural” label became so popular?

In the current lawsuit (which, according to Marc Gunther hasn’t even been filed yet), the plaintiffs explain, they bought Nature Valley’s products because they believed they were all-natural and therefore healthier, only to find out later that “they contain non-natural, highly processed ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), high maltose corn syrup (HMCS), and maltodextrin and ricemaltodextrin (together, Maltodextrin).”

What gave them the impression that the products they bought were all-natural? The packages of the products, the plaintiffs explain. For example, “on the front and back of both Chewy Trail Mix Granola Bars’ boxes, the phrase “100% Natural” appears immediately beneath the NatureValley logo. The back of the Chewy Trail Mix Dark Chocolate & Nut Granola Bars’ box states: “100% Natural. 100% Delicious.” Given this type of language, they were expecting to buy all-natural snacks, not ones that contain HFCS, HMCS, and Maltodextrin.

As mentioned, this is not the first lawsuit against General Mills with this sort of allegations. Last October, Annie Lam of California filed a lawsuit against General Mills, claiming it is incorrectly describing the ingredients of its fruit snacks, citing strawberry-flavored Fruit Roll-Ups that contain “pears from concentrate,” but no strawberries. Lam also said, according to Reuters, that the packaging “was likely to deceive consumers into believing the snacks are healthful and natural, rather than a combination of artificial, non-fruit ingredients.” In May U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti in San Francisco allowed Lam’s lawsuit to go forward, noting that reasonable consumers might be misled by packaging that claimed the snacks are “made with real fruit,” and would not read the fine print.

According to AdWeek, that was the second lawsuit General Mills has faced for its Fruit Snacks. On June 2011, a woman sued the company for $5 million for misleading consumers about the health and nutrition qualities of Fruit Roll-Ups. The case was voluntarily dismissed a month later by the plaintiff, who decided not to pursue the case.

Another consumer lawsuit against General Mills was filed by Minneapolis law firm Zimmerman Reed, accusing the company of violating the FDA’s standard of identity for yogurt and knowingly mislabeling its Yoplait greek yogurt  because it includes milk protein concentrate (MPC), which isn’t listed by the FDA as an ingredient acceptable for use in yogurt. The use of MPC makes Yoplait Greek yogurt “neither Greek yogurt, nor yogurt,” the suit claimed.

All of these examples are from the last year, but it seems like General Mills had to face these issues even before that. AdWeek, for example, reported that in  2009, the FDA forced the company to discontinue misleading cholesterol and cancer-prevention claims on its Cheerios packaging.

So what do you think? Is this a frivolous lawsuit or should General Mills pay for “false” advertising?

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Craig Dekshenieks on August 2, 2012 at 10:25 AM

    An excellent article on “greenwashing” appeared in the Apr/May issue of Today’s Chiropractic Lifestyle magazine. Here is a link to the article: http://www.todayschiropractic.com/Archive/AprilMay2012/Greenwashing.aspx

    Your subscribers might be interested in reading it, as it provides some facts about FDA labeling guidelines and other pertinent information.

    Reply

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