General Mills Facing Class Action Lawsuit Over "Fruit Snacks" Full of Sugars, Partially Hydrogenated Oil, & Dyes
Fruit Roll-Ups, Fruit by the Foot, and Fruit Gushers Make Misleading Claims of Healthfulness, Says CSPI
Something is mostly missing from Fruit Roll-Ups, Fruit by the Foot, and Fruit Gushers, according to a complaint filed today in federal court in California: fruit.
Labels state those General Mills snacks are “fruit flavored,” “naturally flavored,” a “good source of vitamin C,” and low in calories, fat, and gluten, according to the complaint filed on behalf of a California mother by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest and the consumer protection law firm Reese Richman LLP. But obscured on labels is the fact that the so-called fruit snacks are mostly sugars (some from fruit concentrate and some from corn syrup), artificial additives, and potentially harmful artificial dyes.
Strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups are made from pears from concentrate, corn syrup, dried corn syrup, sugar, partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, citric acid, acetylated monoglycerides, fruit pectin, dextrose, malic acid, Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), unspecified “natural flavor,” and Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Blue 1. Even with the pear ingredient, the product provides little of the beneficial fiber or nutrients associated with real strawberries. While labels tout the naturalness of the added flavorings, CSPI says that many of the ingredients are artificial by anyone’s definition, including the partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil and the acetylated monoglycerides. The side panels on some General Mills "fruit" candies read "Made With Real Fruit." At least one variety of Fruit Roll-Ups has pictures of strawberries and oranges on the box. But despite the names of the products, there are no strawberries in Strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups, nor watermelon in Fruit Gushers Watermelon Blast. The bright colors of those products come from synthetic, petroleum-based dyes that can impair some children’s behavior.
“General Mills is basically dressing up a very cheap candy as if it were fruit and charging a premium for it,” said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner. “General Mills is giving consumers the false impression that these products are somehow more wholesome, and charging more. It’s an elaborate hoax on parents who are trying to do right by their kids.”
According to the complaint, filed in United States District Court in the Northern District of California, the presence of partially hydrogenated oil in “fruit” snacks marketed as healthy and wholesome is deceptive. The artificial trans fat in partially hydrogenated oil lowers HDL, or “good” cholesterol, raises LDL, or “bad” cholesterol. CSPI states that the amounts of trans fat are small, but that they have no place in a product marketed as if it were healthful and a source of fruit.
“Defendant is conveying an overall message of a healthful snack product to parents when, in fact, the Products contain dangerous, non-nutritious, unhealthy partially hydrogenated oil, large amounts of sugar, and potentially harmful artificial dyes,” the complaint states.
The complaint contends that the labeling of fruit-flavored snacks violates various state laws, including Minnesota’s Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act, and several California laws governing misleading and deceptive advertising and fraudulent business practices. General Mills is based in Golden Valley, Minnesota.
General Mills has a habit of skirting the truth with its marketing and advertising, according to CSPI. In 2009, the Food and Drug Administration took enforcement action against the company for making misleading cholesterol-lowering and cancer-prevention claims on Cheerios packages. Before resorting to litigation, CSPI had privately urged General Mills to change its “fruit” snacks labels, but without success.
Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at]cspinet.org) or Ariana Stone (astone[at]cspinet.org).