Swiss Miss Hot Cocoa Ingredients Not So ‘Simple,’ Buyers Say
Law360 (November 20, 2019, 3:46 PM EST) — A proposed class of consumers is taking Conagra Brands Inc. to California federal court, claiming the company deceived them by advertising Swiss Miss hot chocolate as having “simple” ingredients like cocoa while it actually uses heavily processed, alkalized cocoa.
In a complaint filed Friday, named plaintiff Mishari Aleisa told the court that when he bought Swiss Miss Simply Cocoa Dark Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix in August, he believed based on the labeling that it contained cocoa in its simplest form.
But he later found out the cocoa had been alkalized, which means the chocolate is soaked in a solution made from substances such as ammonium, potassium or magnesium carbonate, according to the complaint.
This process reduces the cocoa’s acidity but detracts from the “real cocoa” taste and “eviscerates” the healthy aspects of natural cocoa, such as antioxidant properties that help reduce blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health.
“The alkalization of the cocoa radically alters the composition of the cocoa ingredient, such that it is drastically different from simple, real cocoa,” Aleisa told the court.
He brings his claims under California consumer protection laws and seeks to represent all Californians who bought the Swiss Miss brand, or similar brands also made by Conagra, within the past four years. Aleisa is seeking unspecified damages from Conagra, according to the complaint.
The complaint says Conagra is taking advantage of consumers who are increasingly interested in healthy products with real ingredients by telling them their hot cocoa is made of “simple” ingredients, when in fact it is made with processed cocoa.
He and others would not have bought the cocoa mixes for the same prices, or at all, if they’d known they contained heavily processed cocoa instead of the “simple” ingredients advertised on the package, according to the complaint.
Aleisa added that even if Conagra’s labeling is in line with the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the complaint is not challenging the Food and Drug Administration’s labeling standards, but alleging the labeling is misleading and deceptive, therefore it is not subject to preemption by federal law.
An attorney for the proposed class declined to comment Wednesday.
Representatives for Conagra could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.
The proposed class is represented by Abbas Kazerounian, Nick Barthel and Jason A. Ibey of Kazerouni Law Group APC.
Counsel information for Conagra was not available Wednesday.
The case is Aleisa v. Conagra Brands Inc., case number 3:19-cv-07520, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
–Editing by Amy Rowe.