When a company advertises that a product is made with a “real” substance, what exactly does that mean? Is alkalized cocoa “real cocoa”? Is dried fruit “real” fruit? And what constitutes “real” vanilla? The complaint for this class action alleges that SPC Management Co., Inc. advertises its Voortman Cookies in deceptive ways.
The Nationwide Class is all consumers in all states who bought any of the products with the actionable promises during the statutes of limitation. A New York State Class has also been proposed.
At issue are the ingredients in three groups of products—which the complaint calls the Cocoa Products, the Vanilla Products, and the Fruit Products—and whether the ingredients in them should be described as “real.”
These products are advertised as “Baked With Real Cocoa,” but the complaint argues that that is false.
The ingredient panels list “cocoa processed with alkali,” which the complaint says is not real cocoa. According to the complaint, “real cocoa” means that “the cocoa powder is included in its most simplified and bare form, without alkalis, which is readily available.”
Cocoa is graded by the amount of cocoa butter or fat remaining in the powder after processing. High or “breakfast cocoa” has 22% or more; medium or “cocoa” has 10-12%; and low-fat cocoa has less than 10%. It can then be treated with alkalis. The complaint says, “The use and presence of alkalis reduces the acidity of cocoa powder, giving it a noticeably darker hue but detracting from the “real cocoa” taste.”
Also, the complaint says, the word “real” leads consumer to expect a higher grade of cocoa, when “cocoa” signifies only a medium grade of cocoa, with 10-22% fat. The highest grade of cocoa “is referred to as breakfast cocoa, which has a more intense ‘chocolate-y’ flavor.”
The complaint alleges that the claim “Baked With Real Vanilla” is false because “the ingredient list indicates the Vanilla Products contain ‘natural flavor’ which does not include vanilla, vanillin, or vanilla flavor.”
The complaint argues that the “Baked With Real Fruit” claim is false because the ingredient list does not show fresh, whole fruit but dried fruit. “Consumers value products purporting to contain fruit due to their many nutrients and health-promoting effects,” the complaint says, but dried fruit is different. The drying process concentrates the sugars in the fruit but removes some important components. “[B]ecause it is delivered to the body without the roughage and water which would accompany the consumption of that fruit if it were whole and in raw form, its nutritional benefits are greatly diminished.”