General Mills to face lawsuit over Cheerios Protein marketing

by Eric Schroeder
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Cheerios Protein
General Mills must face a lawsuit claiming it misled consumers by marketing Cheerios Protein as a high-protein alternative to regular Cheerios. 

SAN FRANCISCO — A motion put forth by General Mills, Inc. to dismiss a matter involving the Minneapolis-based company’s marketing of Cheerios Protein has been denied in part, leaving the company open to a future lawsuit.

Thelton E. Henderson, a federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, in an Aug. 10 ruling said General Mills must face a lawsuit claiming it misled consumers by marketing Cheerios Protein as a high-protein alternative to regular Cheerios.

Judge Thelton Henderson
Thelton E. Henderson, a federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California

“While the court is skeptical that a reasonable consumer would be misled by the labeling of Cheerios Protein, it cannot say, construing the allegations in a light most favorable to plaintiffs, that it would be impossible for plaintiffs ‘to prove that a reasonable consumer was likely to be deceived,’” Judge Henderson wrote in his ruling.

While the plaintiffs acknowledged that Cheerios Protein does have more protein than regular Cheerios (7 grams per serving versus 3 grams per serving), they contend that the amount of additional protein is not material, particularly considering the larger serving size and calories per serving of Cheerios Protein. Based on the Nutrition Facts Panel of both products, the plaintiffs calculated that 200 calories of Cheerios contains 6 grams of protein, whereas 200 grams of Cheerios Protein contains 6.4 or 6.7 grams of protein, depending on the flavor (oats and honey or cinnamon almond, respectively).

In addition, plaintiffs argued that the Cheerios Protein name is misleading because it says nothing about added sugar. Whereas a single serving of Cheerios contains 1 gram of sugar, a single serving of Cheerios Protein contains 16 or 17 grams of sugar (cinnamon almond or oats and honey, respectively).

Cheerios Protein label
The plaintiffs also challenged certain statements on the label as false or misleading, including that the product provides “a great start to your day."

The plaintiffs also challenged certain statements on the label as false or misleading, including that the product provides “a great start to your day,” enables you to “start your school day right,” and allows you to “kick-start your day.”

General Mills did not comment on the pending litigation, though the company did note in the Aug. 10 motion to dismiss that the Cheerios Protein labels are not likely to deceive a reasonable consumer. Cheerios Protein cereal was introduced in 2014.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, Washington, filed the lawsuit in November 2015 on behalf of consumers in California and New York. 
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