Dole markets a variety of fruit products – such as Fruit Bowls in Gel, Fruit Bowl Parfaits, and Canned Juices – with various health-related claims.  These claims include, for example:

  • “It's our promise to provide everyone, everywhere with good nutrition!”;
  • “Dole Fruit Bowls seal in goodness and nutrition”; and
  • “Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps support a healthy immune system.” 

Some consumers sued Dole, alleging that these claims are false and misleading because they mislead consumers into believing that these are healthy products.   The consumers argued that these fruit-based products are not, in fact, healthy because they derive a significant percentage of their calories from sugar. 

Good Nutrition

First, the court held that Dole's statements that it will provide everyone with “good nutrition” and that their fruit products “seal in goodness and nutrition” were puffery.  Here's why. 

In order to establish a false advertising claim under California law, a plaintiff must show that “members of the public are likely to be deceived” by the challenged representation.  This requires more than the mere possibility that the packaging “might conceivably be misunderstood by some few consumers viewing the labels in an unreasonable manner.”  Rather, the plaintiff must demonstrate that it is “probable that a significant portion of the general consuming public or of targeted consumers, acting reasonably in the circumstances, could be misled.” 

A claim can't deceive consumers, however, if it is mere puffery.  Here, the court defined “puffery” as “exaggerated advertising, blustering, and boating upon which no reasonable buyer would rely and is not actionable.”   The court explained that, “the difference between a statement of fact and mere puffery rests in the specificity or generality of the claim.”  In other words, is the statement “capable of being provided false or of being reasonably interpreted as a statement of objective fact”? 

The court explained that understanding the context in which the statements were made was critical to determining whether they were claims or puffery.  Here, the court felt that, since the statements where made in conjunction with other statements about sunshine, consumers wouldn't understand the statements to be making specific verifiable representations about nutrition.  The court wrote, “each reference to the challenged phrases . . . follows advertising copy that likens the Products to sunshine – a patently fanciful analogy that is further reinforced with playful, childlike drawings of the sun.  The context, in other words, clearly signals that the claims are too vague and aspirational to serve as anything other than ‘exaggerated advertising.’"

The court also thought that, in light of the types of products that the consumers were buying, they wouldn't think that the statements were communicating that they were buying a healthy product.  The court explained, “It is simply implausible that a reasonable consumer who knows they are buying a sweet product, such as Diced Peaches in Strawberry Flavored Gel, and who read a challenged statement like ‘We believe in Sunshine for All. It’s our promise to provide everyone, everywhere with good nutrition!” immediately adjacent to the Nutrition Facts panel showing the amount of both naturally occurring and added sugar, would assume that the Product is generally healthy or would not increase the risk of any disease." 

Vitamin C Claims

Finally, the court held that the consumers' claims based on Dole's statements about the benefits of having Vitamin C in the product were preempted by the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the “FDCA”).   The FDCA does not permit states to establish any food labeling requirements that are different from those required under federal law.  

The FDCA governs “all voluntary statements about nutrient content or health information a manufacturer chooses to include on a food label or packaging.”  This includes both express claims as well as claims that, by implication, characterize the level of any nutrient or characterize the relationship of any nutrient to a disease or health-related condition. 

Here, the court held that Dole's Vitamin C-related claims constituted implied nutrient content claims and therefore were preempted by the FDCA.