A California federal district judge recently dismissed with
prejudice a class-action suit attacking the 'all natural'
labeling of Buitoni pasta. There is some important learning in this
case. Firstly, locating an 'all natural' label near the
list of ingredients may dispel false labeling claims, even if
'all natural' also appears elsewhere on the packaging.
Secondly, the definition of the phrase 'all natural'
remains amorphous and elusive. The California court rejected all
four of the claimant's attempts to provide a clear, accurate
definition, and then resolved the motion to dismiss without
actually defining 'all natural'. Therefore, while Buitoni
may continue labeling its pasta 'all natural', consumers
and manufacturers are left to continue guessing its meaning.
Pelayo v. Nestle USA, Inc
2013 WL 5764644 (C.D. Cal)
October 25, 2013
In 2013, Maritza Pelayo brought a class-action suit against
Nestlé (the maker of Buitoni pasta) for false and misleading
labeling. The complaint focused on 13 'nationally manufactured
and marketed packaged pasta' products 'found in the
refrigerated aisle of grocery stores'.
Pelayo alleged that she purchased two Buitoni pasta products
only because they were labeled 'all natural' and she
understood the 'all natural' label to mean that the pasta
did not contain any unnatural, artificial or synthetic ingredients.
In fact, the pasta contained both synthetic xanthan gum and soy
lecithin. The class-action suit claimed that Nestlé had
violated the California Unfair Competition Law and the California
Consumer Legal Remedies Act. Claims under both statutes are
governed by the 'reasonable consumer test': would a
significant portion of the general consuming public reasonably be
misled by the labeling?
The court found that Buitoni's labeling would not mislead a
reasonable consumer and dismissed Pelayo's suit with prejudice.
The court gave two reasons for its decision. Firstly, the court
determined that the Buitoni packaging would not mislead 'a
reasonable consumer'. Buitoni products are labelled as 'all
natural' in two places: the front of the package, and the back.
The label on the back of the package appears directly above the
list of ingredients. Any ambiguity over Buitoni's use of
'all natural', said the court, could be resolved by simply
reading the list of ingredients Secondly, Pelayo was unable to
articulate 'a plausible objective definition of the term
"all natural"'. Pelayo proposed four different
definitions, all of which were based on various federal regulations
or dictionary definitions. None was sufficient. One of her proposed
definitions, that 'natural' means 'produced or existing
in nature', prompted the court to quote Nestlé's
argument that 'the reasonable consumer is aware that Buitoni
Pastas are not springing fully formed from Ravioli trees and
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