For 2022 Edition of Top Food and Drug Cases, Analysis Group Authors Examine the Role of Contextual Information in Assessing Reasonable Consumer Interpretations of Product Labels

August 2, 2022

For the 2022 edition of Top Food and Drug Cases, a publication of the Food and Drug Law Institute, Analysis Group Managing Principal Rebecca Kirk Fair, Principal Rene Befurt, and Senior Analyst Genna Liu examined Lynn Moore, et al. v. Trader Joe's Company, a specialty food product consumer class action lawsuit. The plaintiffs in the case contended that Trader Joe’s “100% New Zealand Manuka Honey” product label was misleading because less than 100% of the product was sourced from the manuka plant. Ultimately, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the complaint, highlighting the need to consider contextual information such as consumers’ background knowledge, the product’s price point, and the product type when determining whether a “reasonable” consumer would be misled by a product label.

In discussing the implications of the ruling, Ms. Kirk Fair, Dr. Befurt, and Ms. Liu described the multistage buying process that consumers go through when contemplating purchases. During this process, consumers may gather information about the product category, brands, and specific feature sets – often relying on a variety of sources that shape the set of information upon which a consumer relies when ultimately selecting from a variety of potential offerings. The authors concluded by noting that the plaintiffs did not include consumer behavior research in support of their claims, and that “well-constructed survey experiments can provide empirical insights into how consumers interpret a product label, what factors are important in their purchase decisions, and whether a product label is material to consumers’ decisions.”

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