NEW YORK — A federal judge dismissed a chocolate labeling suit against Mondelez International, Inc., finding that a reasonable consumer would not infer that chocolate sold under the company’s Green & Black label contains unprocessed cacao.
The consumer protection suit was filed in February. It alleged that plaintiff C.K. Lee purchased Green & Black chocolate because the front label claimed the products have a high level of cacao, while the ingredient statements listed cocoa as the primary chocolate ingredient.
Specifically, Mr. Lee alleged that the “70% cacao” and “85% cacao” claims on the front labels of Green & Black organic dark chocolate products are misrepresentations because the back labels refer to cocoa, cocoa powder and chocolate liquor instead of cacao. He argued that cocoa is an “inferior and highly processed” derivative of the cacao bean that has been stripped of cacao’s health benefits, including antioxidants and heart-protecting properties.
Lawyers representing Mondelez filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the labels are accurate because cocoa is made from cacao. They maintained that the Green & Black products were labeled in accordance with Food and Drug Administration labeling standards.
US District Judge Lewis Liman of the Southern District of New York agreed, ruling that it is “implausible” that a reasonable consumer seeing the term “cacao” would necessarily infer that the product contains only the unprocessed form of cacao.
“Nowhere in the standard of identity for ‘cacao products’ does the FDA address the ingredients necessary for a product to be labeled as ‘cacao,’” the judge wrote in his ruling. “The regulations instead show that the FDA often conflates cacao and cocoa… Both chocolate liquor and cocoa powder are derived from the cacao plant, and since the ingredient lists state that the products contain both chocolate liquor and cocoa powder, it follows that the products themselves are made from cacao.”Lawyers representing the plaintiff said they plan to re-file the consumer protection case in state court.