Too Sweet to Be True: Ocean Spray Accused in Lawsuit of Sugary Snack Deception

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Ocean Spray Accused In A Class Action Lawsuit Of Misleading Consumers With High Added Sugar In Snacks Promoted As Healthy.

When you find a healthy snack that’s also tasty, it’s like hitting the jackpot — satisfying for the tastebuds and the body. That’s how some consumers felt eating Ocean Spray’s dried cranberry products, until they discovered the tasty treats were packed with added sugar, a new lawsuit alleges.

The consumers are now trying to hold the company accountable for what they say is false marketing, misrepresentation of the snacks, and the violation of a swath of other California business laws. 

False health claims

The proposed class action lawsuit was filed in California by Ann Elders and Rebeca Crampton who both purchased and enjoyed Ocean Spray’s Craisins Dried Cranberries and Cranberry Bites, believing them to be healthy treats. 

The lawsuit says that the women were “seeking a nutritious, healthy food, that is, the type of food whose regular consumption would not likely increase the risk of disease.” “Instead of receiving products that were healthy, Plaintiffs and the Class received products likely to increase risk of disease when consumed regularly.”

The lawsuit alleges that Ocean Spray’s “deceptive claims,” including that the products meet U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) MyPlate guidelines and statements they are a wholesome snack, as well as the “omission” of clear information about the amount of added sugar, deceived and damaged customers' health and finances.

“These claims, however, as well as Ocean Spray’s omissions, were and are deceptive because the Products are not healthy, and instead contain such high levels of added sugar that their regular consumption is likely to increase the risk of chronic disease.”

MyPlate dietary recommendations

The USA MyPlate is an easy-to-follow food guide that helps parents determine what to feed their kids to keep their diets nutritious and balanced. It’s like a modern and more detailed food pyramid that includes color coded plates showing sections for vegetables, fruits, grains, and protein foods.

The guide shows how fruit and vegetables should make up a substantial portion of a healthy balanced diet, but also notes that the products chosen to meet those quotas should be prepared with little to no added sugars — quite unlike the Ocean Spray cranberry products. 

Added sugar poses health risks

As the lawsuit explains, added sugar consumption increases risk of cardiovascular heart disease and mortality. Some of the diseases it can contribute to are type 2 diabetes, metabolic disease and liver disease. That’s not to mention weight gain, mental health, and dental hygiene issues. 

According to the plaintiffs’ complaint, the products can contain more than 20 grams of added sugar, which contributes to about half of their calories, and even the “50% Less Sugar” versions provide 30 percent of their calories from added sugar, which is six times more than the Food and Drug Administration considers “healthy” in food. 

Fruit products frequently hit with legal action

Ocean Spray is far from the first company to face legal action over alleged false marketing of fruity snacks as a healthy option. In 2017, Welch faced a proposed class action lawsuit that alleged deceptive marketing of its Fruit Snacks, and in 2023 Dole Packaged Foods had to answer similar claims about its packaged fruit snacks after it was accused of ramming them full of sugar. Arizona has also faced similar allegations.

As Elders and Crampton argue in their lawsuit against Ocean Spray, customers have a right to a marketplace free of fraud, “where they are entitled to rely with confidence on representations” made by companies. Many of the class actions filed in these situations don’t just seek damages, but also injunctive relief to stop companies from being able to make claims that are either untrue or half truths.

What to look out for when shopping

To make sure you’re making good decisions about what you toss in the shopping cart, here are a few tips to follow:

  • Read the nutrition label and check for information on serving size, calories, macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, and added sugars
  • Check the ingredients list and choose products with whole foods listed at the beginning and avoid those with long lists of artificial additives, preservatives, and high amounts of added sugars and unhealthy fats.
  • Look for certifications like USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, Fair Trade, and others 
  • Understand health claims and be aware of marketing terms 

Elders and Crampton want to represent Ocean Spray consumers from across the country and are suing for violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law, False Advertising Law, Consumers Legal Remedies Act, Breaches of Express Warranties, Breach of Implied Warranty, Negligent Misrepresentation, Intentional Misrepresentation, and Unjust Enrichment.

The plaintiffs and proposed class are represented by Jack Fitzgerald, Melanie R. Monroe, Trevor Flynn, and Caroline S. Emhardt of Fitzgerald Monroe Flynn PC.

The Ocean Spray added sugar class action lawsuit is Elders et al v. Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc., Case No. 3:24-cv-00565-BEN-VET, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.

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