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Whole Foods 365 Organic “Vanilla” Almondmilk Class Action

Carton of 365 Organics Almondmilk

Many US consumers are choosing soymilk or almondmilk over cow’s milk these days. A recent group of class actions has taken issue with the designation of some of these milks as “vanilla almondmilk” or “vanilla soymilk.” The complaint for this class action takes on Whole Foods Market Group, Inc., alleging that its 365 Organic brand almondmilk incorrectly designates two of its varieties as being “vanilla.”  

The National Class for this action is consumers in all states where Whole Food has retail stores who bought any of the products with actionable representations. Subclasses are proposed for New York and possibly various other states.

The word “vanilla” is prominently displayed on both cartons, with one variety being “Regular” and the other “Unsweetened.” The complaint notes that according to the products labels and advertising, their primary characterizing flavor is vanilla.

Vanilla is the second most expensive flavoring in the world, after saffron. It is also an extremely popular flavor. The complaint says, “This demand could not be met by the natural sources of vanilla, leading manufacturers to devise methods to imitate vanilla’s flavor and appearance. 

The complaint reproduces the ingredient labels for the two products. The Unsweetened variety lists, among other things, “…organic natural flavor, sea salt, organic vanilla extract…” The Regular variety lists “…natural flavors, sunflower lecithin, tricalcium phosphate, gellan gum, potassium citrate, organic vanilla extract…” 

Both products thus indicate that they have more other flavorings than they do vanilla. The complaint alleges, “The front label representations of ‘Vanilla’ are misleading because the Products (1) contain an insufficient amount of vanilla to independently characterize the Products and (2) the ‘natural flavor’ does not simulate or resemble vanilla.”

The complaint claims that the ingredient listing indicates that the flavoring is not exclusively vanilla, and that the products contain non-vanilla flavors not derived from vanilla beans. 

According to the complaint, with the label “declaring ‘vanilla’ separately, consumers would expect the Products to contain the standardized vanilla ingredients—vanilla flavoring or vanilla extract—and a greater amount of these high value products, when they actually contain a compounded version.”

The complaint goes so far as to claim that, since the amount of real vanilla in the products has a bearing on their desirability and how much consumers are willing to pay for the products, “their identity statement and/or front label should be accompanied by the percentages of vanilla and non-vanilla flavors, i.e., 50% vanilla flavor and 50% non-vanilla flavors.”

The complaint alleges violations of state consumer protection laws, negligent misrepresentation, fraud, and breaches of warranties, among other things. 

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