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Whole Foods sued over false advertising of sugar in goods

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Whole Foods is in hot water again. (AP Photo)

Just weeks after getting called out for overcharging customers for prepackaged food items, Whole Foods is in trouble again for allegedly mislabeling baked goods.

A class action suit filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri in April by plaintiff Lois Bryant alleges that the high end grocer has been misleading customers into thinking their products are healthier or “more natural” by using the term “evaporated cane juice”—or ECJ—instead of just writing sugar, reports Food Navigator USA.

The complaint cites a draft guidance from the FDA issued in 2009 that advises companies to refrain from using the term “evaporated cane juice” because it is “false and misleading.”

 The suit specifically calls out the label on the chain’s Gluten Free All Natural Nutmeal Raisin Cookies.

Whole Foods is not the first chain to be hit with a lawsuit regarding the potentially confusing term. Trader Joe’s, Chobani and other manufacturers have faced similar complaints, but many of the suits have been thrown out in court.

Whole Foods is denying charges that it is misleading customers and filed a motion to have the case dismissed on July 2. 

The attorneys for the grocer argue that the cookie labels “prominently disclose both the total amount of sugar and the existence of added sugar by separately identifying brown sugar as an ingredient in addition to ECJ" and that that consumers intuitively know that “cane” means from “sugar cane” and thus knew additive is a sweetener. 

Though the grocery chain is hoping the court will dismiss this latest claim, Steve Gardner, a lawyer who specializes in the food industry, told Food Navigator USA that Whole Foods’ argument may be flawed in this case.

“I assume Whole Foods will put on consumer evidence from a wishing well and a Ouija board as well as this baldfaced assertion, which begs the question why Whole Foods didn’t just call it sugar that consumers don’t have to rely on their intuitions.”