If you want to make a lot of money selling food products to the well-off, slightly crunchy health-conscious consumer, branding may be more important than the product itself. That is, if the brand and the product can get along.
That apparently wasn’t the case for Kashi, the healthy-cereal brand owned by food giant Kellogg. Despite featuring all sorts of whole grains and seeds in its products, the Kashi’s image didn’t quite line up with its ingredients—and that’s costing its parent company $5 million.
Kashi settled a lawsuit this week over its use of the terms “all natural” and “nothing artificial” on its packaging. As it turns out, Kashi products still contained soy oil processed using hexane, an industrial solvent that’s also found in gasoline, and other artificial ingredients, including pyridoxine hydrochloride and calcium pantothenate. There’s no federal standard for what “natural” or “all natural” means, but the FDA is OK with it as long as the product “does not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances.” That means Kashi products containing hexane, pyridoxine hydrochloride, and calcium pantothenate are by no means “all natural.”
The settlement is the latest victory for consumers bringing legal claims that labeling language misrepresents food products and beverages. Naked Juice had to drop its “natural” claim last year following a similar lawsuit, and Kellogg settled a similar “natural” case brought against its Bear Naked brand. Ben & Jerry’s has been called out by watchdog groups for its misleading labels too.
Despite the very straightforward language from the FDA, meaningless though its definition of “natural” may be, Kellogg remains somewhat defiant about how it branded Kashi.
“We stand behind our advertising and labeling practices,” Kellogg spokesperson Kris Charles said in a statement. “We will comply with the terms of the settlement agreement by the end of the year and will continue to ensure our foods meet our high quality and nutrition standards while delivering the great taste people expect.”
It just won’t be “all natural” anymore.