A federal judge has ruled that General Mills, Minneapolis, must face a lawsuit claiming it misled consumers by marketing Cheerios Protein cereal as a high-protein alternative to regular Cheerios, when the main difference was that it contained 17 times more sugar per serving. Reports last week note that a motion put forth by General Mills to dismiss the matter involving the marketing of Cheerios Protein has been denied in part, leaving the company open to a future lawsuit.
A decision on Aug. 10 by U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson said consumers may pursue a claim that General Mills violated the federal Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, since it "misbranded" Cheerios Protein as a high-protein alternative to regular Cheerios.
Though "skeptical" it would succeed, Henderson refused to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claim that reasonable consumers would likely be deceived by packaging for the cereal, noting that text mentioning its sugar content and being "sweetened" appeared in small print on the boxes.
General Mills said it does not discuss pending litigation.
Plaintiffs said the real difference between regular Cheerios and Cheerios Protein was negligible because the serving size of Cheerios Protein, and the calorie content per serving, was twice as big. Reports added that the plaintiffs also called the Cheerios Protein name misleading because it said nothing about the 16 or 17g of sugar in a serving, versus a single gram in regular Cheerios. The plaintiffs acknowledged Cheerios Protein has more protein than regular Cheerios (7g per serving versus 3g per serving), but they contend the amount of additional protein is not material, particularly considering the larger serving size and calories per serving of Cheerios Protein.
The lawsuit was filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based nonprofit group, last November on behalf of consumers in California and New York.