WASHINGTON - January 8 - Kraft Foods, the maker of Capri Sun—foil pouches filled with a solution of water, high-fructose corn syrup, and small amounts of juice—is being sued by a Florida woman for deceptively marketing the product as “All Natural.” The suit contends that the company’s deceptive marketing tricks consumers into thinking the product is healthier than it actually is, perhaps encouraging some people to confuse the almost juice-less drink with real fruit juice. Though high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is no more harmful than other sugars, it is a plainly man-made ingredient, according to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which, alongside the Florida law firm of Varnell & Warwick, is representing the plaintiff in the class action suit.
“When I saw ‘All Natural’ on the label, that sounded healthier than soda,” said Linda Rex, a Boynton Beach, Fla., grandmother and the plaintiff in the suit, who purchased Capri Sun for a young relative visiting from Ireland. “But when I got home and got out my glasses, I threw it in the garbage when I realized it contained high-fructose corn syrup and was nearly identical to soda.”
It may sound like it comes from corn in the same way sugar comes from sugar cane or sugar beets, but HFCS is created by a complex industrial process performed in refineries using centrifuges, hydroclones, ion-exchange columns, backed-bed reactors and other high-tech equipment. Starch is extracted from corn and then converted by acids or enzymes to glucose. Then some of the glucose is further converted by enzymes into fructose. HFCS has only been widely used in food since the 1980s. CSPI says that while the glucose and fructose in HFCS are identical to naturally occurring glucose and fructose, the fact that chemical bonds are broken and rearranged in their production disqualifies them from being called natural. For instance, while a scientist might be able to produce sugar by rearranging the molecules of any number of things that contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, it clearly wouldn’t be “natural” sugar.
“Though Capri Sun claims to be ‘All Natural,’ its main flavoring would more accurately be called ‘Fresh from the Factory,’” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “Let’s put it this way: Unless you and your chemist friends are prepared to undertake a little Manhattan Project in your kitchen, you won’t be brewing any high-fructose corn syrup from scratch anytime soon. How typical of a tobacco company, though, to call something like HFCS ‘All Natural.’”
Kraft’s parent company, Altria Group, also owns Philip Morris USA, which makes Marlboro, Virginia Slims, Basic, and Parliament brand cigarettes. Altria soon may seek to spinoff Kraft, according to press reports.
Capri Sun is typically sold in boxes of 10 foil pouches. Both the boxes and the pouches use the words “All Natural,” but only the boxes disclose the presence of high-fructose corn syrup in the fine print of the ingredients list. Kraft also makes Capri Sun “All Natural Fruit Rolls,” which similarly contain HFCS. The suit, filed in state court in Palm Beach County alleges that the “All Natural” claims are in direct violation of that state’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, and asks the court to order Kraft to drop the false statements.
This isn’t the first time CSPI has challenged a food manufacturer for passing off HFCS as “all natural.” In May, CSPI notified soda-giant Cadbury Schweppes that it would file a lawsuit against the company for rebranding 7UP as “100% Natural,” despite the fact that it includes the factory-made sweetener. CSPI agreed to a request from Cadbury to discuss settlement possibilities before a lawsuit is filed. Those discussions are continuing, but CSPI is likely to sue if the company doesn’t agree to changes in the near future. Also, several years ago CSPI filed a complaint with the Food and Drug Administration about an “all natural” product with artificial ingredients—a line of Ben & Jerry’s ice creams—but the agency yawningly responded that it had “other priorities.”
“It’s a shame that a major company like Kraft tries to deceive consumers on food labels, and it’s a greater shame still that the FDA lets them get away with it,” said CSPI litigation director Stephen Gardner. “We look forward to hearing Kraft’s lawyers defend their company’s behavior in court.”
Since its litigation project was founded two years ago, CSPI has negotiated settlements that result in improved labeling or marketing of products made by Quaker Oats, Pinnacle Foods, Frito-Lay, and others. In October, CSPI dropped a lawsuit it had filed against KFC after that company announced a switch away from partially hydrogenated oil to heart-healthy soybean oil for deep-frying. And, a month ago, Procter & Gamble agreed to more clearly label the artificial fat substitute olestra on Pringles Light Fat Free potato crisps after negotiating with CSPI.
Also last month, CSPI notified Coca-Cola and Nestle that it would sue those companies if they continue marketing Enviga, a new carbonated green tea drink, with deceptive claims about its “calorie burning” and weight management properties. A lawsuit against Kellogg for marketing junk-food to kids that CSPI and others announced last year is expected to be formally filed early this year.