October 27, 2020

Venable’s Successful Defense of Welch’s Fruit Snack Labeling Suit Affirmed on Appeal

2 min

On October 27, 2020, the California Court of Appeal, First District, affirmed the trial court’s bench trial judgment rejecting Thomas Iglesias’ claim that the manufacturer of Welch’s Fruit Snacks violated the law by listing “fruit puree” as the first ingredient.

The Promotion In Motion Companies, Inc. (PIM) manufactures Welch’s Fruit Snacks and identifies “Fruit is our 1st Ingredient” on the front of the product label.  This is done because the predominant ingredient in the product is a fruit puree composed of various fruits.  PIM obtains the fruit puree as a single puree from a third-party supplier that identifies the fruit contained within the puree and lists them in order by weight.  The third-party supplier, however, does not identify the percentage breakdown of the fruits within the puree, as the formula is proprietary.

Iglesias filed his complaint alleging that the label is false and misleading because, in part, the grouping of fruit violates Food and Drug Administration regulations that require all ingredients to be listed by their common or usual name.  Iglesias argued that PIM should be required to separately list each fruit, and, if this were done, sugar would actually be the predominant ingredient in the product.

Judge Wiss of the San Francisco Superior Court held a bench trial on the issue of whether PIM was permitted to identify “fruit puree” followed by a parenthetical listing of the constituent fruits.  After considering the evidence, Judge Wiss concluded that PIM’s labeling was lawful and that fruit puree is “an established common or usual name” within the industry.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court judgment, finding that Judge Wiss’s decision was supported by substantial evidence that “fruit puree” is a common or usual name for that ingredient.  The Court of Appeal also held that the trial court correctly refused to defer to FDA compliance policy guidance in rendering its decision. 

"Based on the evidence before the trial court, such as the industry usage and the composition of the fruit puree at issue compared with the standard definition of puree, we conclude the trial court's ruling was supported by substantial evidence," Justice Sandra L. Margulies wrote for the court.

The Venable team both at the trial court and on appeal included Dan Silverman and Matt Gurvitz.

The decision was covered by Bloomberg Law and Law360