With low-hanging fruit such as Froot Loops and Crunchberries already targets of litigation accusing cereal makers of making exaggerated health claims, a Bay Area lawsuit now takes on Quaker granola bars, an oily, sugary concoction touted as nutritious food.
But San Diego barrister Greg Weston says he's no toucan hunter, and protests he shouldn't be put in the same box as lawsuits claiming sugary cereal buyers believed they were paying for fruit. To wit: Weston actually got Quaker Oats to admit in a March 15 filing that the company had advertised trans-fatty granola bars as containing zero grams of trans fats.
"I think there's a big difference. The Kellogg suit involving Froot Loops and Crunchberries; I thought those suits were silly. Here we're talking about a company that's falsely arguing the product contains zero grams of trans fat, when they actually have trans fat," said Weston, who has filed a potential class-action suit in San Jose district court on behalf of a pair of Northern California men. "It is not really plausible that people would think [Crunch Berries] were really berries. There aren't any crunchy berries that I know of."According to Weston's suit, Quaker Oats deceived consumers when it advertised granola bars containing partially hydrogenated oil as trans-fat free. Weston made sure to toss an image in his complaint of a Quaker Chewy Granola Bar label that declared in large type: "0g Trans Fat."
"That's fraudulent in our opinion," he says.
Trans fats, the unhealthy grease found in some processed oils, have been linked with heart disease and other ailments.
In a March 15 filing, Quaker's San Francisco lawyers stated that "Quaker admits that the side and back labels of Quaker Chewy 25 percent Less Sugar granola bars state, among other things, that they contain '0g Trans Fat.' Quaker admits that, during a period of time in the past, this product may have contained a dietarily insignificant amount of trans fat (i.e. less than 0.5g per serving).
And Quaker contends that's okay. In response to Weston's suit, Quaker noted the Food and Drug Administration permits companies to state a product contains "0" grams of trans fat as long as the product contains less than half a gram of the stuff, a claim the FDA rulebook confirms.
Quaker Oats' attorneys and press flacks have not yet returned requests for comment. But we're guessing the suit's success or failure may hinge on whether Quaker is perceived as having put "0g transfats" on labels in order to loudly announce compliance with FDA labeling requirements, or as an effort to convince consumers, falsely, that their product contained no trans fats.