HONOLULU (Legal Newsline) - Cargill agreed to a settlement with class members who alleged the claims that its Truvia sweeteners were natural were misleading.
The settlement fund created in the settlement proposed June 19 is in the amount of $6.1 million.
The settlement requires Cargill to make substantive changes to the Truvia consumer product packaging and amendments to the Truvia.com website that resolve the allegations challenging the labeling, packaging, advertising, and marketing of the Truvia consumer products, according to the settlement document.
Additionally, the settlement allows eligible class members to make a claim – depending on the amount of their purchases during the class period – to recover either cash reimbursement and a minimum of $7.50 and a maximum of $45, or eligible product vouchers with a minimum value of $18 and a maximum value of $90.
"The parties only reached this settlement after conducting significant settlement-related discovery and engaging in extensive arm’s-length negotiations, including three mediation sessions...and multiple in-person settlement conferences with all plaintiffs, amounting to almost one year of settlement negotiations," the settlement document states.
On Sept. 12, the plaintiffs filed a motion for attorneys' fees, expense reimbursement and incentive awards.
Class counsel requested an attorneys' fee award and expense reimbursement in the amount of 30 percent of the settlement fund, which totals $1.83 million.
Denise Howerton, Erin Calderon and Ruth Pasarell are seeking incentive awards in the amount of $2,000 each.
Howerton filed her class action lawsuit on July 8, 2013. Calderon filed her class action on Sept. 23, 2013, and Pasarell filed hers on Sept. 24, 2013. The three complaints were consolidated and transferred to Hawaii federal court.
The plaintiffs claimed Cargill and Coca-Cola developed a "purportedly natural, sweeter-than-sugar, non-caloric sweetening ingredient for foods and beverages."
As part of a scheme to make Truvia more attractive to consumers, boost its sales and ultimately increase its profits, Cargill used terms such as "Nature's Calorie-Free Sweetener," "Truvia sweetener comes from nature" and natural imagery such as the leaves of the stevia plant in labeling, advertising and marketing materials, the plaintiffs claimed.
Cargill denies that its marketing, advertising and/or labeling of Truvia is false, misleading or deceptive to consumers or that it violates any laws. However, Cargill agreed to settle the Truvia false advertising class action lawsuit to avoid the risk and expense of trial.
Cargill will offer cash refunds or vouchers to class members who submit valid claims and has also agreed to make certain changes to the labels of its Truvia product and add language to the Truvia website to further describe the ingredients.
The claim form deadline is Dec. 5. A final fairness hearing is scheduled for Oct. 27.
The plaintiffs are represented by Clayton D. Halunen and Melissa W. Wolchansky of Halunen & Associates; Michael R. Reese of Reese Richman LLP; and Joseph P. Guglielmo and Erin Green Comite of Scott+Scott Attorneys At Law LLP.
Cargill is represented by Jan M. Conlin of Robins Kaplan Miller & Ciresi LLP.
The case is assigned to District Judge Leslie E. Kobayashi.
U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii case number: 1:13-cv-00336
From Legal Newsline: Kyla Asbury can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.