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Class action lawyer sweet on white chocolate; Starbucks, Clif Bars ask courts to toss cases

By Gabriel Neves | Mar 4, 2019

NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) – Several well-known companies are facing lawsuits over allegations that they misrepresented that their products contain white chocolate, with one company claiming these cases follow in the tradition of lawyers who sued over the lack of fruit in Froot Loops.

The lawsuits involve the use of the words "white chocolate" in labeling on products, such as energy drinks and snacks.

For example, Jamie Joslin and Courtney Davis filed a lawsuit against Clif Bar & Co. in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California alleging that the white chocolate flavor on White Chocolate/Macadamia Nut Clif Bar was misleading.

Clif Bar filed a motion to dismiss the suit in November, referencing the previous lawsuits over whether breakfast cereal Froot Loops deceived consumers into believing it contained real fruit.

"Plaintiffs’ claims are not plausible because a reasonable consumer would not be misled by the products’ labels, which explicitly disclose that the 'white chocolate' taste in the products is merely a 'natural flavor' and not an ingredient other than flavor as plaintiffs allege," the motion said.

Another suit over white chocolate involves coffee company Starbucks.

Consumer Juan Rafael Marten filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against Starbucks alleging that white chocolate supposedly found in an energy drink was not real.

Starbucks filed a motion to dismiss the suit in December, alleging the labeling meets FDA requirements.

"But the Product, in accordance with federal regulations, is clearly advertised and labeled as a drink that is

'naturally and artificially flavored' to taste like white chocolate," lawyers for Starbucks wrote.

"To label it in any other way — for example, as an imitation — would bring the Product into conflict with Food and Drug Administration requirements."

Marten alleged in the complaint that the product in question is "not an imitation" of white chocolate, but "a coffee-based drink with natural and artificial white chocolate flavors."

Another case involving white chocolate also comes from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, this time involving a brand of snack.

Aurora Morrison filed a class action lawsuit against Snack Innovations, the makers of snack Drizzilicious, under the same allegations as the previous two cases on Feb. 8.

She alleged that one of Snack Innovations' products, Drizzilicious Cinnamon Swirl rice cakes, did not contain what is deemed as white chocolate.

Morrison alleged that consumers rely on regulations to meet their expectations.

"FDA rules concerning white chocolate are not obscure regulations of no concern to anyone but regulators," Morrison's suit states. "On the contrary, consumers rely on these regulations to assure that they are purchasing what they are led to believe they are purchasing. 

"Since white chocolate does not contain the cacao solids impart chocolate with its flavor and which consumers normally associate with chocolate, consumers rely on the FDA to ensure that white chocolate more closely resembles what they know as chocolate."

Morrison also alleged in the complaint that the Snack Innovations' misrepresentations were designed to "increase sales of the products."

Morrison previously filed a suit against Nuts 'N More LLC in the Southern District of New York in November 2018 over allegations its Nuts 'N More White Chocolate Peanut Spread did not contain white chocolate.

A previous settlement against a well-known chocolate maker over allegations its baking chips misled consumers into believing it contained white chocolate may set a precedent as to how expensive settling these suits could be.

Ghirardelli settled a case for millions in 2014 over whether its baking chips contained real white chocolate in its composition.

As stated in a story published by Confectionery News, Ghirardelli's settlement was set at $5.25 million. The suit was filed over allegations the product was fraudulently labeled as it contained less than the required 20 percent of cocoa butter mandated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be considered white chocolate.

The chips contained no white chocolate or cocoa butter in their composition, only vanilla and milk, as stated in the label, Confectionery News reported.

The suits against Starbucks, Clif Bar, Snack Innovations and Nuts 'N More were filed by Lee Litigation Group in New York City.

The firm is active in labeling class actions against food companies, as well as cases over slack fill (the amount of empty space in a package).

Examples of C.K. Lee's lawsuits include those that allege products advertised as all natural actually have preservatives and a recent case against Panera that says the blueberries in its bagels are nothing more than "dyed lumps."

One of his targets has termed Lee a "shakedown" artist.

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