If you had a choice of eating food that contained “evaporated cane juice” or “sugar,” you’d probably go with the former because it sounds healthier. Juice, after all, doesn’t sound like it will give you a sugar high. But according to the FDA, they’re the exact same thing.
Which is precisely why The WhiteWave Foods Co (NYSE:WWAV) probably chose to list it as an ingredient on a number of its milk and yogurt products. The dairy company’s Silk Pure Coconut milk called it “all natural evaporated cane juice” while its Horizon Organic milk called it “organic evaporated cane juice.” The FDA, however, says they’re both just sugar, and WhiteWave was slapped with a class action lawsuit over deceptive advertising practices.
A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet, but the regulatory agency issued guidelines for the industry in 2009 to tamp down the use of the ECJ phrase. It noted: “the term ‘evaporated cane juice’ has started to appear as an ingredient on food labels, most commonly to declare the presence of sweeteners derived from sugar cane syrup. However, FDA’s current policy is that sweeteners derived from sugar cane syrup should not be declared as ‘evaporated cane juice’ because that term falsely suggests that the sweeteners are juice.”
Moreover, there’s no existing sweetener that commonly uses that phrase, and foods are required to go by their common names. The WhiteWave Foods Co (NYSE:WWAV) could prbobaly use ECJ in its advertising if it so chose — sort of like those personal-care products that make up a name for some ingredient to have it sound medicinal or even exotic — but it would have to list in the ingredients section what the item really is. In this case, sugar.
Naturally, The WhiteWave Foods Co (NYSE:WWAV) said it did nothing wrong, and while it didn’t admit any liability, it agreed to change the label on its packaging. It could cost the company as much as $800,000 when all is said and done.
Yet The WhiteWave Foods Co (NYSE:WWAV) isn’t alone. Chobani, the Greek yogurt maker , Kellogg Company (NYSE:K)‘s Kashi brand, and Trader Joe’s have all been hit with similar lawsuits. It’s part of a trend trial lawyers have initiated of targeting health food companies, particularly those that use such ephemeral phrases like “all natural” and “no sugar added.”