Whole Foods Asks Judge To Put The Kibosh On Lawsuit Over “Natural” Label On Baked Goods

Image courtesy of Glyn Lowe Photoworks

When it comes to products with labels reading “all natural,” are you willing to pay more than you would otherwise? Whole Foods customers who have filed lawsuits against the grocery chain said they paid a premium price for baked goods that were falsely labeled as natural, as they actually contained synthetic ingredients.

Whole Foods Market wants a judge to dismiss two class actions brought against the company by a lead plaintiff who said she and other customers paid a pretty penny for “all natural” cookies, muffins, and other baked goods that had synthetic ingredients, Courthouse News reports.

In a hearing on Whole Foods’ request for summary judgement — which is when a court enters a judgement for one party and against another without a full trial — the company’s lawyers said the plaintiffs failed to show how much they allegedly overpaid for the products bearing the “all natural” label.

“The plaintiffs must satisfy all elements of their claims, including damages,” a Whole Foods attorney said. “There’s no evidence of a price premium attributable to the all-natural label.”

On the other hand, attorneys for the class say the evidence is in the clients’ deposition testimony, where they say they paid anywhere from $3 to $6 more for products that thought only had natural ingredients. Though because there is no federal standard for what a “natural” ingredient is, that could be open to interpretation.

Another attorney for the plaintiffs rejected Whole Foods’ assertion that the lawsuits should be tossed because the plaintiffs didn’t take the extra step of computing the damages at an early stage in the litigation, a move that would have been expensive.

“We didn’t pay our expert an extra $50,000 to calculate the amount, and the defendants want to rake us over the coals for that,” the attorney told U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria.

Whole Foods’ lawyer says that just claiming they wouldn’t have paid more for another product without that label isn’t enough.

“They have to at least show there was a price premium,” he said.

His team points to a 2011 ruling involving Snapple, where a judge granted summary judgment to the defendants, as the plaintiffs had only “vague recollections” of where and when they bought “all natural”-labeled beverages and how much they paid for them.

But the judge in this case says things are different, because Whole Foods has records on how much it charged for the products at the heart of the issue, and how much consumers usually pay for comparable items that don’t have the “all natural” label.

On the other hand, the plaintiffs will have to figure out a way to establish damages they suffered as a result of overpaying for those products, the judge noted.

“I’ve never seen an opposition to summary judgment be successful when saying, ‘I don’t have the evidence now, but we will have it,'” Chhabria said.

It’s unclear on how the judge might rule, but in the meantime, he told the parties to try to mediate their issue again before he rules on the request for summary judgement.

Whole Foods Fights Labeling Class Actions [Courthouse News]