The Eastern District of Missouri (the Honorable John A. Ross,
U.S. District Judge) recently issued an order denying a motion to
dismiss claims involving an allegedly deceptive food label.
Plaintiff alleged that she purchased a box of muffin mix bearing a
"Nothing Artificial" label on the front, but the
ingredient list on the back of the box disclosed the presence of
monocalcium phosphate and xanthan gum, alleged artificial
substances. She brought a claim under the Missouri Merchandising
Practices Act (Missouri's consumer fraud and deceptive trade
practices act) and a claim for unjust enrichment.
The defendant relied on cases holding that the term
"natural" is ambiguous to argue that it was unclear
whether the term "artificial" encompassed substances such
as monocalcium phosphate and xanthan gum. Thus, the defendant
argued, a reasonable consumer would not have been deceived by the
"Nothing Artificial" label. The court rejected this
argument, holding instead that whether a reasonable consumer would
have been deceived by the muffin mix's packaging was a question
The defendant also argued that the disclosure of monocalcium
phosphate and xanthan gum in the ingredient list precluded a
finding of reliance on the "Nothing Artificial" label.
The court rejected this argument, reasoning that a consumer might
not read the ingredient list or might not know that monocalcium
phosphate and xanthan gum are artificial substances. The court
allowed both of plaintiff's claims to proceed past the
This case is noteworthy for a few reasons. First, unlike labels
touting a "natural" product, few cases have addressed
claims based on a "nothing artificial" label. With
regards to the former, courts are split regarding whether the term
"natural" has a definite meaning such that a reasonable
consumer could be deceived when the allegedly nonnatural
ingredients are disclosed in an ingredient list. But so far, no
court has held that "artificial" is similarly ambiguous
(and at least one court has explicitly distinguished the term
"natural" from the term "artificial," finding
the former ambiguous but the latter clear in meaning).
The court's reasoning in this case does not rely on a
distinction between "natural" and "artificial"
and is seemingly just as applicable in either context. The court
makes no effort to distinguish a "natural" product label
case from the Western District of Missouri and cites favorably
cases holding that whether a product label is deceptive is rarely a
question of law (see our blog post on a recent Ninth Circuit case
holding similarly here). Until more courts weigh in, litigants
should continue to raise the "ingredient list"
The case is Thornton v. Pinnacle Foods Group LLC, No.
4:16-CV-00158-JAR, 2016 WL 4073713 (E.D. Mo. Aug. 1, 2016).
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