A federal judge has preliminarily approved a $3.4 million settlement of a class action lawsuit accusing grocery store chain Trader Joe’s of falsely advertising certain products such as cookies and apple juice as “all natural.” In an order handed down on February 6, U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick called the settlement “sufficient, fair reasonable and adequate.”
The settlement requires Trader Joe’s to stop using the phrases “all natural” or “100% natural” on products named in the lawsuit. Those products contained artificial substances such as ascorbic acid, sodium acid pyrophosphate, vegetable mono- and diglycerides, cocoa processed with alkali, sodium citrate and xanthan gum.
“In light of the food labels’ ‘All Natural’ representations, a reasonably prudent consumer would certainly not normally expect the food products to include synthetic or artificial ingredients,” the class action lawsuit said. “Indeed, as a result of this false and misleading labeling, Defendant was able to sell these purportedly “All Natural” products to thousands of unsuspecting consumers in California and throughout the United States and to profit handsomely from these transactions.”
The settlement requires Trader Joe’s to establish a settlement fund of $3.375 million to cover administrative expenses and class awards. Members of the class who have proof of purchasing these items will be able to file claims for the average retail price for each product they bought. Those who don’t have receipts may be reimbursed for up to 10 products ranging in price from $2.70 to $3.99 each, up to a total of $39.99.
A hearing is scheduled for July 9, 2014 for final approval of the proposed settlement. The lawsuit was filed in 2011 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The case is Tamar Davis Larsen, et. al. v. Trader Joe’s Co. (3:11-cv-05188). It affects products sold since October, 2007, including Joe-Joe’s chocolate vanilla crème cookies and sandwich crème cookies; Trader Joe’s jumbo cinnamon rolls, buttermilk biscuits, crescent rolls, fresh jellies and pressed apple juice; and Trader Giotto’s fat-free ricotta cheese.
The plaintiffs are represented by Janet Lindner Spielberg of the Law Offices of Janet Lindner Spielberg, Michael D. Braun of Braun Law Group PC and by Joseph Kravec Jr., Wyatt A. Lison and McKean J. Evans of Feinstein Doyle Payne & Kravec LLC.
Trader Joe's is represented by Kate Ides, Carla Christofferson and Daniel J. Faria of O'Melveny & Myers LLP.
Trader Joe’s is also facing criticism for selling meat from animals raised on antibiotics. Consumers Union took out full-page ads in two Colorado newspapers on Monday imploring Trader Joe’s to “be an industry leader: Get your meat off antibiotics.” According to the Denver Post, Trader Joe’s plans to open its first stores in Colorado on Friday, February 14. Consumers Union says it is targeting Trader Joe’s because “it has more control over its suppliers.”
Trader Joe’s responded by saying that some of its meat is already antibiotic-free, and it’s working to find new sources of antibiotic-free products.