Froot Loops and Cap’n Crunch False Advertising Claims Rejected

July 22, 2009

A federal district court in California recently dismissed two putative class action lawsuits alleging that the marketing and packaging of Froot Loops and Cap’n Crunch with Crunchberries deceived consumers into believing that the products actually contained real, nutritious fruit. Both lawsuits were brought under California’s Unfair Competition Law and were rejected on virtually identical grounds.

The Froot Loops lawsuit alleged that Kellogg’s use of the word “Froot” in the product name, coupled with pictures of fruit and the brightly colored cereal on the packaging was deceptive. The Plaintiff, Keith Videtto, claimed that he purchased Froot Loops over a period of four years in large part because he had been exposed to this packaging. The ingredients list on the Froot Loops box reveals that the cereal contains no actual fruit, but only “natural fruit flavors.”

Similarly, the Cap’n Crunch with Crunchberries lawsuit alleged that the Defendants’ use of the word “berries” in the product name, along with the packaging depiction of “Cap’n Crunch thrusting a spoonful of ‘Crunchberries’ at the prospective buyer,” was deceptive. The Plaintiff, Janine Sugawara, claimed that the packaging led her to believe that Crunchberries actually contained elements of redeeming fruit. The ingredients listed on the Cap’n Crunch box indicate that the only fruit content in a Crunchberry is a touch of strawberry fruit concentrate.

In granting both motions to dismiss, the court distinguished the Ninth Circuit decision in Williams v. Gerber Co. (2008), which found that the packaging of a Gerber product “could likely deceive a reasonable consumer.” In that case, the product was called “Fruit Juice Snacks,” and the packaging depicted a number of different fruits and contained statements that the product was made with “all natural ingredients” and would “help toddlers grow up strong and healthy….”

Contrasting the Gerber case, the court noted that the Froot Loops packaging does not prominently feature pictures of fruit and contain phrases suggesting nutritional value. Instead, it features the name Froot Loops, a picture of Toucan Sam, a picture of a bowl of Froot Loops, a small banner stating “natural fruit flavors” with “small vignettes of fruit next to it,” and the phrase “sweetened multi-grain cereal.” The court stated that “the fanciful use of a nonsensical word cannot reasonably be interpreted to imply that the Product contains or is made from actual fruit.” With the absence of any nutritional claims on the box, the court found that it’s “entirely unlikely” that members of the public would be deceived.

Similarly, the court found that the Cap’n Crunch packaging was not deceptive because it makes no claim “to be particularly nutritious or to be designed to meet the nutritional needs of toddlers or children….” The court further noted that it was not aware of any actual fruit referred to as a “Crunchberry,” and the packaging clearly depicted a Crunchberry as “round, crunchy, bright colored cereal balls.” Under these facts, the court concluded that a consumer was not likely to be deceived as a matter of law.

Videtto v. Kellogg, E.D.Calif. No. 08-1324 (2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43114)
Sugawara v. Pepsico, E.D. Calif. No 08-01335 (2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43127)

For more information, please contact Kevin T. Shook.