The court said that the packaging of its Graduates Fruit Juice Snacks, which features pictures of oranges, peaches, cherries and strawberries alongside the words ‘fruit juice’, could deceive consumers as the product does not contain any juice from the fruits depicted.
The case had originally been dismissed by a Californian federal district court in February which found that Gerber’s packaging would be unlikely to deceive a reasonable consumer “particularly given that the ingredient list was printed on the side of the box.”
However, the Court of Appeals reached a different conclusion, stating: “We disagree with the district court that reasonable consumers should be expected to look beyond misleading representations on the front of the box to discover the truth from the ingredient list in small print on the side of the box.”
The case had been brought against Gerber by two mothers of young children, who also challenged statements on the packaging that the sweets were “one of a variety of nutritious Gerber Graduates foods and juices” and that they are “made with real fruit juice and other all natural ingredients.” The basis for their argument is that the only juice in the sweets comes from concentrated white grape juice, although the two leading ingredients are corn syrup and sugar.
The reversal of the original decision to dismiss the case will allow it to move forward and be heard at a later date.
Compliance with FDA regulations
Gerber, meanwhile, has argued that its packaging complies with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations. Although the appeals court said that this argument may prove to be relevant, it said that it had not addressed the issue during the appeal, but added: “We do not think that the FDA requires an ingredient list so that manufacturers can mislead consumers and then rely on the ingredient list to correct those misinterpretations and provide a shield for liability for the deception.”
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which will serve as lead counsel in the case against Gerber, has claimed that although the company has renamed the product ‘Juice Treats’, it is still selling it as part of its baby and toddler food range, rather than alongside confectionery items.
Given the level of concern about healthy eating, ‘healthy’ confectionery has become a major market driver.
However, CSPI’s director of legal affairs Bruce Silverglade said: “The Court’s decision is a warning to all companies that try to make junk food look healthy by depicting nutritious fruits, vegetables, and whole grains on the labels of sugary, high-calorie snacks.”
A date is yet to be set for the hearing.