On December 2, 2015, Judge Vince Chhabria of the Northern District of California dismissed with prejudice claims that grocery retailer Trader Joe’s violated California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL) by using the term “soymilk” to describe certain food products that did not have cow’s milk. The plaintiffs alleged that Trader Joe’s’ use of the word “soymilk” to describe products that contain soymilk, but not cow’s milk, violated the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act. Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that Trader Joe’s’ use of the word “soymilk” misled plaintiffs into believing that the products (1) actually had cow’s milk, or (2) had a similar nutritional content to cow’s milk. Judge Chhabria held that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim that Trader Joe’s’ use of the term “soymilk” violated the federal act under either of the two theories alleged.
First, the plaintiffs failed to state a plausible claim that Trader Joe’s’ use of the term “soymilk” is false or misleading under the “reasonable consumer” standard. Judge Chhabria held that a reasonable consumer would not be misled into thinking that soymilk comes from a cow, as soymilk is widely known as an alternative to cow’s milk. Also, a reasonable consumer would not think that the word “soymilk” implies that the product has a similar nutritional content to cow’s milk, because it would be implausible to assume that two distinct products contain the same nutritional content. Second, the court rejected the notion that Trader Joe’s had represented the “soymilk” products as cow’s milk products, which have a “standard of identity” under FDA regulations. Judge Chhabria found “no conceivable justification” for the assertion that a product labeled “soymilk” could be considered to be representing itself as cow’s milk.
Judge Chhabria also denied in part and granted in part Trader Joe’s’ motion to dismiss claims based on undisclosed additives in products that the plaintiffs did not purchase, ruling that only the plaintiffs’ claims regarding additives in purchased products would go forward.