Benefiber Maker Sued for Misleading “100% Natural” Labeling

A consumer filed a class-action complaint in the District of New Jersey on Nov. 23, claiming that defendant GSK Consumer Health Inc. deceptively labels certain Benefiber products as “100% Natural” when these products allegedly contain some synthetic ingredients. As a result, the plaintiff asserted that she was misled by this labeling and paid a higher price for the products than warranted.

Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that the defendant “manufactures, sells, and distributes” Benefiber Original Prebiotic Powder and Benefiber Healthy Shape Prebiotic Powder “through a marketing and advertising strategy that emphasizes that these products are ‘100% Natural.’ ” However, the plaintiff averred that this marketing “is false, fraudulent, deceptive, and misleading” because, contrary to the label representation, the plaintiff and putative class purchased these products “contain(ing) wheat dextrin, which is a non-natural synthetic ingredient,” which “means that they are not ‘100% Natural,’ ” according to the plaintiff.

The plaintiff, who most recently purchased the Benefiber products on May 3, claimed that she would not have purchased the products if they were labeled accurately. According to the complaint, a 2014 Consumer Reports study found that “about two-thirds of consumers believe that Products that are ‘natural’ do not contain any ‘artificial ingredients, pesticides, or genetically modified organisms’ and that 80% of consumers believe it should mean that.” Additionally, the complaint cited a 2015 Consumer Reports study that found that consumers were willing to pay more for “natural” products and those with labeling that matched up to their expectations.

The complaint explained that consumers are increasingly looking for natural and healthy options. As a result, the plaintiff proffered that the defendant’s misleading 100% Natural labeling is particularly troublesome because it piques consumers’ interest for “natural” products and, subsequently, charges a premium for these products in, what the plaintiff called, an attempt to “capitalize on the booming natural products industry.”

According to the complaint, Proctor & Gamble, a competitor of the defendant, brought a case of the products at issue before the National Advertising Division (NAD), the self-regulatory body for the advertising industry, and challenged GSK’s claims that these products are “100% Natural.” Upon review, on May 14, the NAD concluded that GSK “deceptively labeled and misrepresented the Products.” The NAD argued that GSK’s “ ‘100% Natural’ representation on the Products was ‘inconsistent with the reasonable consumer takeaway’ of what that ‘100% Natural’ means.” The plaintiff added that the NAD’s decision was based on its finding that “wheat dextrin is actually a synthetic ingredient due to the complex chemical process required to produce it.” Moreover, the NAD noted that “the process of manufacturing Benefiber transforms the source ingredient — wheat starch — which is digestible and has 0% dietary fiber, into a new ingredient — wheat dextrin — which is non-digestible and has 85% dietary fiber.”

The complaint noted that guidance from the United States Department of Agriculture confirmed that wheat dextrin is not a natural ingredient. As a result, the NAD concluded that a reasonable consumer would not consider this to be “100% Natural” because “ingredients that are derived from nature and undergo significant chemical alterations are often not ‘natural’ in the way that consumers expect them to be.” Consequently, consumers are likely to find this labeling misleading and deceptive. The NAD recommended that GSK stop labeling these Products as “100% Natural.”

The plaintiff alleged that GSK’s marketing and sale of the products violated the Federal Trade Commission Act, which prohibits “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce.” Additionally, the defendant has violated the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment and the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution, as well as various New Jersey laws, according to the plaintiff. Furthermore, GSK is accused of common law fraud and unjust enrichment.

The plaintiff has sought to certify the class and to designate the plaintiff and her counsel to represent the class, to enjoin the defendant from further unlawful conduct, an award for damages, an award for costs and fees, restitution, pre- and post-judgment interest, and other relief.

The plaintiff is represented by Levin Sedran & Berman and Mason Lietz & Klinger LLP.