“Natural” Label Continues To Be Problematic

Recently, there has been a nationwide push by consumer advocates to litigate consumer fraud claims against companies selling products labeled as ‘natural,’ as discussed in previous blog posts here.  Typically, plaintiffs seek damages for violations of consumer protection legislation and allege false advertising or mis-labeling of the products. This week, a New Jersey District Court judge allowed a case to proceed, in part, against Church & Dwight Co. for deodorant sold under the Arm & Hammer Essentials Natural brand.

The plaintiffs argued in Trewin, et al v. Church & Dwight, Inc., Civ. Act. No. 12-1475(MAS)(D.N.J.) that the defendant falsely advertised and mislabeled its product as natural, even though it contained a synthetic additive called triclosan, an antibacterial agent. Church & Dwight sought to dismiss the case for failure to sufficiently plead the action, arguing that a reasonable consumer would not assume that even a product labeled ‘natural’ would not include some synthetic ingredients. Judge Shipp denied the motion, in part, and determined that the plaintiffs met their burden of sufficiently pleading a claim under the NJ Consumer Fraud Act and the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act for the mis-labeling claim. Judge Shipp did, however, grant that part of the motion seeking to dismiss the advertising claim, but with leave to re-file.

Lastly, Judge Shipp advised that some of the substantive arguments set forth by defendants in their motion, although strong, are better served in support of a summary judgment motion. Expect an update in the future, as this case will surely be one of continuing interest.

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