This lawsuit alleges that General Mills falsely and misleadingly marketed Cheerios Protein cereal as a high protein alternative to Cheerios, in violation of the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and state business codes.
Minneapolis based General Mills, Inc. (GIS) is involved in the international production, marketing and distribution of cereals, snacks and processed foods. In March 2014, General Mills began selling Cheerios Protein in two varieties, Oats & Honey and Cinnamon Almond.
On November 9, 2015, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a non-profit consumer advocacy group, filed a lawsuit (U.S, District Court Northern District of California) against General Mills, on behalf of California residents Nancy Coe and Tori Castro and New York resident Pamela Mizzi and others similarly situated, alleging General Mills falsely and misleadingly marketed Cheerios Protein cereal as a high protein, healthful alternative to Cheerios. The class action complaint includes a side-by-side comparison of Cheerios and Cheerios Protein and alleges that General Mills is deceptive because Cheerios Protein does not contain much more protein than Cheerios and "[r]ather than protein, the principal ingredient that distinguishes Cheerios Protein from Cheerios is sugar."
According to the allegations, the Nutrition Facts Panel on the cereal boxes list a 4 gram difference in protein (7 for Cheerios Protein and 3 for Cheerios) which the complaint attributes to a larger serving size (55 grams as opposed to 27 grams respectively). The complaint alleges that for the same 200 calories, CSPI found a .7 gram difference between Cheerios Protein Oats & Honey (6.7 grams) and Cheerios (6 grams). Cheerios Protein is alleged to have significantly more sugar than Cheerios; specifically, a 11/4-cup serving of Cheerios Protein Oats & Honey has 17 grams and a 1 cup serving of Cheerios has 1 gram of sugar.
The complaint alleges that the plaintiff consumers purchased Cheerios Protein, and paid more for it than they would have paid for Cheerios, believing the product had qualities they sought (e.g., healthfulness, a high amount of protein relative to Cheerios) based on General Mills misleading labeling and marketing and that they would not have purchased Cheerios Protein had they understood the true nutritional profile of the product. General Mills is alleged to have knowledge that many of its customers purchase Cheerios Protein because they are health conscious and believe that the product is materially higher in protein than Cheerios (or, effectively a fortified version of Cheerios). The complaint claims General Mills deliberately cultivates these misperceptions through its marketing, sales and pricing scheme and relies and capitalizes on consumer misconceptions about Cheerios Protein.
Class action certification is requested for all persons residing in California and New York who have purchased Cheerios Protein for their own use (including for their families) since March 1, 2014. The suit seek damages for the purchasers, attorney costs and fees, and an injunction against General Mills for deceptive and misleading marketing and advertising that constituted unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business acts or practices in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the California Business & Professions Code and New York General Business Law.
We will update this lawsuit in early 2016.