- In a 16-page order, U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick dismissed with prejudice customer Angela Kennard’s putative class action she filed last year against Kellogg Sales Co. over its use of the term “veggie” in several of its MorningStar Farms line of meatless products such as its burgers, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, patties, sausage links, bacon stripes, chicken wings and more. As our readers may recall, we reported on the Morningstar Farms “veggie” product labeling suit in April after Kellogg moved to dismiss the amended suit, citing several decisions in similar false labeling suits, such as the opinion issued by the Ninth Circuit in Becerra v. Dr Pepper/Seven Up Inc., where the panel ruled no reasonable customer would believe the company’s use of the term “diet” promised weight loss or management.
- Plaintiff Kennard alleged Kellogg’s Morningstar Farms “veggie” products mislead consumers because the word “veggie” indicates that the main or only ingredients in the products are vegetables or made from vegetables, adding that customers she surveyed said they largely understood “veggie” to refer to vegetable-based products. Plaintiff accused the food and beverage company of violating California’s False Advertising and Unfair Competition laws, as well as a myriad of federal rules regulating the labeling of food products, and breaching warranties. However, on September 15, the Northern District of California decided that Kellogg’s use of the term “veggie” on its labels is, at most, ambiguous and could refer to meat substitutes.
- Judge Orrick said he didn’t think the term “veggie” on the products’ labels was false, misleading or misbranded or that it violates any federal food labeling requirements or state laws. The term “veggie” is ambiguous in the way it is used on the packaging, and the photos and information on the packaging doesn’t convey the product uses any particular vegetables. “I agree that the [Plaintiff’s’] allegations are implausible and do not support a reasonable inference that some significant portion of consumers would be misled into thinking the VEGGIE products are made primarily of vegetables as opposed to being vegetarian meat substitutes made from grains, oils, legumes, or other ingredients,” Judge Orrick maintained. Additionally, the product packaging features items that imitate meat, and consumers can readily identify the actual ingredients in the products on the packaging, the judge said.
- In recent years, laws have been passed all over the country that restrict the use of the term “meat” in product labeling, including in Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and others. For example, Missouri passed a law in 2018 prohibiting a seller or advertiser from “misrepresenting a product as meat that is not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry.” Similarly, many of these other states’ laws require that only foods derived from food-producing animals may contain labels with terms like “meat, “burger,” “sausage” and the like.
- In light of these recent labeling lawsuits and related legislation, marketers must be mindful of any representations they are making — whether in words or pictures — that might convey claims about a product’s contents. Keller and Heckman will continue to follow and report developments relating to the growing number of labeling claims challenges.