Monday, December 29, 2014 - A court order from a Judiciary Panel on Multidistrict Litigation filed on December 10 combined lawsuits from California, Florida, Massachusetts, and New York against Whole Foods for consolidation into and MDL based in the Western District of Texas. The suits are aimed at the misrepresentation of the sugar content in Whole Foods 365 brand Greek yogurt.
Plaintiffs in the case accuse the grocery chain of listing their Greek yogurt‘s sugar content at two grams per serving, when the real amount was actually more than 10 grams. This was allegedly done to give them a competitive advantage over other Greek yogurts offered in their stores. Comparable Greek yogurt averaged approximately 5-10 grams of sugar per serving.
All of the plaintiffs in the MDL accuse Whole Foods of false and deceptive marketing practices, as well as demonstrating negligence in the testing of the sugar contents and labeling of their products. The particular brand in question is 365 Everyday Value Plain Greek Yogurt. In similar yogurts a low sugar content is seen as a premium trait in the marketplace. The plaintiffs claim that this premium marketed behind the misstated sugar content was exploited for revenue at the expense of customers.
Whole Foods has claimed that the company is not expressly liable for the figures it used to label its Greek yogurt as they were based off of results they received from third-party labs. However, many of the plaintiffs attribute the price premium that low-sugar contents can have for yogurt as the real reason the information was misstated and many admitted to specifically purchasing Whole Foods-brand Greek yogurt for exactly this purpose. Plaintiffs also claim that many customers purchasing the yogurt may have had medical or diet restrictions that would have taken the sugar content into account. The false listing of the sugar for the yogurt could have compromised their customers‘ health, especially those with sugar-sensitive diseases such as diabetes and other blood-sugar related afflictions.
Consumer Reports provided the data that spurred the lawsuits. Their report, released in July, analyzed six yogurt samples from six different stores and found that the Whole Foods yogurt averaged more than five times its listed sugar content with 11.4 grams per serving. Consumer Reports also reported that 27 other companies that produced Greek yogurt had labeled their products accurately. Whole Foods was notified of the Consumer Reports findings soon after the tests were conducted, however chose to continue to offer the product with the incorrect labeling. After the lawsuits were first filed by plaintiffs who had gotten ahold of the Consumer Reports data in August of 2014, Whole Foods decided to pull the mislabeled yogurt from their shelves.
The JPML declined some of the plaintiffs requests to consolidate the lawsuits in Massachusetts, reasoning that Whole Foods‘ headquarters in Austin would result in the availability of the most relevant documents if the MDL was based in Texas. The nationwide class of plaintiffs involved in the lawsuit has been defined as those who purchased the Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value Plain Greek Yogurt on or after August 1, 2010.