US Cereals law suit over “low sugar” claims

United Kingdom

An American woman has filed a lawsuit in March 2005 against food companies including Kraft Foods, General Mills and Kellogg alleging that “low sugar” breakfast cereals are misleading.

The suit claims that these cereals are misleading because they aren’t any healthier than cereals with regular levels of sugar.

The allegation reported is that the low-sugar cereals falsely represent that they offer a nutritional advantage over defendants’ full-sugar breakfast cereal products, when in fact, the removed sugar is replaced by other carbohydrates, thus offering no significant nutritional advantage.

The complaint, which seeks class-action status, lists the reduced-sugar versions of Post’s Fruity Pebbles from Kraft, General Mills’ Cocoa Puffs and Trix, and Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes.

An article published recently by the Associated Press said that nutrition scientists at five universities had suggested that “low sugar” cereals had no significant advantages over their regular counterparts.

The scientists found that while the cereals have less sugar, the calories, carbohydrates, fat, fibre and other nutrients were virtually the same as full sugar cereals because the removed sugar had been replaced with refined sugar to preserve the cereal’s crunch.

It is unclear whether or not any specific health claims were made for the reduced sugar cereals and reports confirm that nutritional information provided complied with government regulations.

Lawyers for the claimant are reported to be relying on the fact that customers rely on the “one-line ad” as opposed to the nutritional labels and that these included an ambiguity which should not have been there.

The lawsuit, filed in the San Diego County Superior Court, seeks to force the companies to surrender profits from low-sugar cereals and to stop them from marketing the products as nutritionally superior. The suit seeks class-action status on behalf of all California consumers who bought the new cereals believing they were healthier.


This case is a further illustration of the approach taken by claimant lawyers in the US, namely alleging that labelling and product information is misleading, in particular where there may be construed an implication of a health claim. This approach is being seen also in the UK but via the Advertising Standards Authority (see below.)

This article first appeared in our Food industry law bulletin May 2005. To view this publication, please click here to open a new window.