A California man has dished out a potential class action
lawsuit against Quaker Oats, alleging the maker of popular breakfast foods should
pay because it doesn’t include enough real maple in its maple-flavored oatmeal
to satisfy consumer law.
Kevin Phung, of San Diego, filed a putative class action
Tuesday in Chicago federal court against Chicago-based Quaker, alleging the company’s Maple & Brown
Sugar Instant Oatmeal contains neither maple syrup nor maple sugar, and
therefore the product name is “false, misleading and deceptive.”
Maple, Phung contends is “a natural sweetener … generally
recognized as a healthier and more nutritious alternative to other sweeteners.”
He said he bought the oatmeal about once every two months from, among other
places, a Rite Aid store near his home. He learned of the maple void from news
reports and said he has not purchased the oatmeal since the revelation.
According to Phung’s complaint, Quaker first offered its
maple and brown sugar flavored oatmeal in 1970. Starting in 1995, Quaker “embraced
a strategy of marketing its oatmeal products as healthy (and) claims its products
were the first to receive FDA approval for food-specific health claims in 1997,”
the lawsuit said.
Further, the complaint, which detailed the nature of maple
syrup and the process of harvesting maple sap and converting it to syrup. as
well as FDA standards for product labeling, noted federal regulators only
consider a product to be maple syrup if it contains 66 percent, by weight, soluble
solids derived solely from maple tree sap.
Quaker markets several products with “maple” in their product
names, including Maple & Brown Sugar Instant Oatmeal; Maple & Brown Sugar
High Fiber Instant Oatmeal; Maple & Brown Sugar Gluten Free Instant
Oatmeal; Maple & Brown Sugar Lower Sugar Instant Oatmeal; Maple & Brown
Sugar Weight Control Instant Oatmeal; and Maple & Brown Sugar Organic
None of those products, Phung argued, contain maple. The
classic recipe, for example, actually includes only “whole grain rolled oats,
sugar, natural and artificial flavor, salt, calcium carbonate, guar gum,
caramel color, niacinamide, reduced iron, vitamin A palmitate, pyridoxine
hydrochloride, riboflavin, thiamin mononitrate and folic acid.”
“There is no societal benefit from false advertising, only
harm,” the complaint said, adding Phung and other class members “paid for a
lower value product that is not what it purports to be,” allegedly harming them
and unjustly enriching Quaker.
Phung specifically alleged Quaker violated the California
state Unfair Competition Law, as well as the Consumers Legal Remedies Act,
while also breaching express warranty. In addition to class certification and a
jury trial, Phung seeks actual, compensatory, consequential and statutory
damages and legal fees.
The complaint did not specify how much Phung believes Quaker
Oats should pay for the alleged lack of maple in its oatmeal, but he said he believed
the class of additional plaintiffs could include hundreds of people, and damages
could top $5 million.
Representing Phung, and hoping to also represent the
potential plaintiffs’ class, are the firms of Barnow and Associates, of
Chicago; Blood Hurst & O’Reardon, of San Diego; the Law Office of Aron D.
Robinson, Chicago; Markham Law Firm, of San Diego; Keegan & Baker, of
Carlsbad, Calif.; and United Employees Law Group, of Huntington Beach, Calif.