"All Natural" too undefined to be the basis of a claim

Pelayo v. Nestle USA, Inc., 2013 WL 5764644, No. CV 13–5213 (C.D. Cal. Oct. 25, 2013)

Pelayo sued Nestle alleging claims about 13 Nestle stuffed pasta products using the term “All Natural” on the labeling while containing synthetic xanthan gum and soy lecithin. 

The court dismissed the claim because Pelayo failed to offer an objective or plausible definition of “All Natural.”  One possibility, “produced or existing in nature” and “not artificial or manufactured,” clearly wouldn’t apply to the manufactured pasta: the reasonable consumer is aware that Buitoni Pastas are not “springing fully-formed from Ravioli trees and Tortellini bushes.”  Nor were the other definitions Pelayo offered plausible.  She alleged that none of the ingredients in a “natural” product would be “artificial” under FDA definitions. But she failed to allege that any of the challenged ingredients were “artificial” as defined by the FDA; anyway, the cited definition only applied to flavor additives, and she didn’t allege that the challenged ingredients were added flavors.

Pelayo also alleged that none of the ingredients in a “natural” product are “synthetic” as that term is defined by the National Organic Program.  But the challenged products weren’t labeled as organic and the NOP didn’t apply. Plus, the challenged ingredients were expressly permitted in organic-labeled products (though they are defined as synthetic).  “Consumers generally conflate the notions of ‘natural’ and ‘organic,’ or hold products labeled ‘organic’ to a higher standard than products labeled “natural,” and, thus, it is implausible that a reasonable consumer would believe ingredients allowed in a product labeled ‘organic,’ such as the Challenged Ingredients, would not be allowed in a product labeled ‘all natural.’”

Then, Pelayo offered the FDA’s 1991 informal statement on “natural,” but that’s not a legal requirement.  The FDA/FTC declined to define natural because the term “may be used in numerous contexts and may convey different meanings depending on that context.”  Given that finding, it was implausible that a significant portion of the general consuming public or of targeted consumers would be deceived or mislead by the use of the term “All Natural” on the pastas.  Also, even the FDA’s informal policy would allow the use of some artificial and synthetic ingredients, such as the ones challenged here.

Finally, the ingredient list clarified any ambiguity about “All Natural,” and was consistent with the use of that term.  Thus, plaintiff failed to allege either a plausible objective definition or a subjective definition shared by the reasonable consumer.
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