General Mills prevails in false ad lawsuit over sugar content in cereals

General Mills prevails in false ad lawsuit over sugar content in cereals (Foodnavigator USA)

  • After a three-year long class-action lawsuit, the case accusing General Mills of falsely advertising its cereals as healthy when they contain high levels of sugar has been dismissed by a federal judge in California.
  • The judge noted there was no consensus on how much sugar is healthy (the FDA hasn’t updated their definition of the word since 1994 and also has no clear guidelines on how much sugar in a product is too much).
  • He further noted that “the actual ingredients were fully disclosed” on both the front and side panel of the company’s packaging and the plaintiffs therefore could not plausibly claim to be misled about the sugar content of their purchases.

Analysis and Comments

  • While the case was dismissed a few weeks ago, it’s still worth pointing out as it is not the only one of its kind; there are two similar lawsuits filed in 2016 against cereal makers involving the same law firm and some of the same plaintiffs which are still in play.
  • There’s also a class-action complaint claiming Kellogg overstated health claims on its cereals and cereal bars that  was recently referred to mediation.
  • Another lawsuit against Post is still in court, claiming that their packaging is allegedly misleading as it states that honey is the primary sweetener when according to the plaintiffs the cereal gets most of its flavour from cane and beet sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, malted barley syrup, and molasses rather than honey.
  • This issue is unlikely to go away anytime soon (even though the ruling may speed up the closing of some of these cases), as breakfast cereals are a major source of free sugars in children. Sales volumes are likely to continue to go down because of the consumer backlash at their high sugar content.
  • Currently, in the majority of countries it is mandatory to have nutritional information for food and most drinks. However, the problem is that for the average consumer the data is meaningless because of its complexity. In the long term, we think that there is a strong possibility that graphic health warnings and traffic light labelling could be used for high-fat sugar and salty (HFSS) food and drinks.
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