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Health Food Maker Bear Naked Hit With a Class Action Suit Over Label Claims

Health food maker Bear Naked Inc. was served with a class action suit in recent weeks in California federal court. The suit alleges that Bear Naked misled its purchasers with product labels that depicted 100-percent pure and natural ingredients, when the reality was that synthetic ingredients were used in the company's products.

What Is Bear Naked Inc. and What Products Does It Make?

Bear Naked, a subsidiary of Kellogg Company, is a health food maker of a line of health-conscious snack products that include granola, bars, cereals, trail mixes, and cookies. According to the suit, Bear Naked's products were labeled as "all-natural," even though they contained potassium carbonate, glycerin, and lecithin. Each of these ingredients is a synthetic chemical ingredient pursuant to existing federal regulations of the U.S. Department of Agriculture for American organic products.

Bear Naked's Class Action Suit Is Not Unique in the Recent Lineage of Natural Food Litigation

The list of class action suits against makers and marketers of natural or health foods for false claims of purity is growing at a fast, furious pace. Most of the suits allege that manufacturers and marketers are falsely labeling their products as all natural, when, in reality, the products are anything but. It seems as though manufacturers believe that inserting the word "natural" on their products will translate into guaranteed big sales.

The Bear Naked suit seeks standard remedies of money damages, injunctions, and declaratory relief. These remedies are sought by plaintiffs for the health food manufacturer's alleged fraudulent conduct in product labeling and marketing that contributed to it being unjustly enriched by hefty annual sales. The Bear Naked suit's complaint also alleged violations of California consumer protection laws, such as those dealing with unfair, unlawful, deceptive, misleading, and fraudulent conduct on the part of defendants. The Bear Naked consumer class poses, in its complaint, that health makers' labels are both false and misleading to the American public because reasonably prudent consumers would not assume the products contain synthetic ingredients when claims of 100-percent pureness and naturalness are made.

Making Determinations of "Natural" Ingredients Is Complex

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposes a definition for "natural" that is deemed illustrative in the food industry. The definition includes nothing artificial or synthetic in the food that would not be usually expected to appear in it. The natural definition may appear simple and logical. However, in today's complex, competitive business environment and litigious society, this definition is open to multiple interpretations, influences, and perspectives. One of the problems appears to be that the FDA's definition of "natural" is still considered informal, rather than a formal mandate or edict.