The days of touting "All Natural" and "Nothing Artificial" on certain Kashi and Bear Naked products are over.
Kellogg's has agreed to stop the practice and pay $5 million, as part of an agreement to settle a class-action lawsuit, the company confirmed Thursday.
The move by the cereal giant is expected to shake up the food marketing world, where the use of terminology such as "all natural" is increasingly being questioned and challenged by consumers, activists and lawyers. Even as more nutrition-conscious consumers seek better-for-you foods, they also are increasingly demanding accurate product descriptions on the packaging.
Key to the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in California, are these ingredients listed as appearing in some of the cereals and other products: calcium pantothenate (a form of vitamin B5), pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6) and hexane-processed soy ingredients.
For its part, the Food and Drug Administration still has not developed a definition for the term "natural." The agency, on its website, says it's difficult to define a food product that is natural because it has probably been processed and is "no longer a product of the earth." Even then, the agency says it has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances.
In a statement, Kellogg's spokesperson Kris Charles said the two brands "will make the decision to change our formulas on our labels by the end of the year." Even then, the statement says, "we stand behind our advertising and labeling practices."
The settlement does not impact any other Kellogg's products, the statement says.
"Companies are now trying to find words other than 'all natural' since that's been the subject of so many lawsuits," says Liv Kiser, an attorney whose firm focuses on health and wellness marketing compliance. "We can expect companies to react to this by using fewer absolutes on their labels."
She noted that several companies have changed the words on their packaging in recent years after similar disputes. The "Simply Natural" line of Frito-Lay chips was changed to "Simply." And Quaker changed from "Natural Quaker Granola" to "Simply Quaker Granola," she notes.
One thing's for sure, says Kiser: "Companies can expect this kind of litigation to continue."