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Horizon Organic Milk “Vanilla” Designation Class Action

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Carton of Horizon "Vanilla" Milk

This class action is one in a long string taking issue with the labeling of certain products as “Vanilla” without qualifications. The complaint alleges that Horizon Organic Dairy, LLC labels some of its single-serving milk cartons as “Vanilla,” but should not be doing so, because, it claims, the milk is not exclusively flavored with real vanilla.

Vanilla is a perennially popular flavor, but according to the complaint, it’s more popular and therefore has a larger commercial demand than can be met by the supply of real vanilla plants. Manufacturers therefore have sought other ways to reproduce the taste of vanilla. 

One way is the use of vanillin. According to the complaint, however, only 1-2% of today’s vanillin comes from vanilla plants, and even when vanillin originates in natural sources, it is made in such a way that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers it to be synthetic.

If vanillin is used to flavor a “Vanilla” product, the packing must disclose that.

What does the ingredient panel for the milk product say? “Organic Natural Flavor” is the only flavor listed. No reference is made to vanilla. 

The complaint alleges, “Where a product is labeled with the unqualified term ‘vanilla’ yet its ingredient list does not identify vanilla extract or vanilla flavoring as the only flavor ingredient in the product, the front label is misleading.”

Vanilla “is the only flavor with its own standard of identity,” the complaint says, “which control its labeling as opposed to the general flavor regulations.”

A product whose flavor is designated simply as “Vanilla” gives consumers the impression that all of the flavor comes from vanilla beans, the complaint says. Quoting federal regulations, the complaint says that a product that contains an “amount of characterizing ingredient [vanilla] insufficient to characterize the food, or the food contains no such ingredient,” the product should be labeled as “Vanilla Flavored [Milk]” or “Natural Vanilla Flavored [Milk].” 

This is because if the term “Flavored” is omitted, consumers get the impression that there is enough natural vanilla to create the flavor. In the case of the milk product, the complaint alleges that the label is misleading, because it contains non-vanilla flavors while implying that the only flavoring is vanilla.

The specificity is important, the complaint claims, because consumers nowadays prefer natural flavors and will pay more for them, particularly in the case of a popular and expensive flavor like vanilla.

The class is all consumers in New York and the forty-nine other states, presumably those who bought the milk with the actionable representations.

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