Aldi Faces A Major Class Action Lawsuit For False 'Naturally Flavored' Claim

If you shop for foods that have only natural ingredients and no synthetic flavoring agents, you may want to think twice about purchasing goods at Aldi. According to Newsweek, a class action lawsuit seeking roughly $10 million in damages alleges that the grocery store chain falsely labeled its fruit and grain bars "naturally flavored" and claimed they contained "no artificial flavors." The synthetic flavoring agent DL malic acid was found when tested in a lab. Athlete and health care administrator Deana Lozano is the lead plaintiff in the suit filed in the U.S. District Court of Central California., serving on behalf of all California consumers who purchased the Millville Fruit & Grain cereal bars. 

The product's printed list of ingredients included malic acid, an ingredient that can be produced naturally. However, as the lawsuit alleges, the company used DL malic acid, which is synthesized from benzene or butane; this, the plaintiff claims, effectively "misrepresented and deceived consumers regarding the flavoring in the products ... for the purpose of enriching itself." Because studies have shown that consumers are willing to pay more for products that are billed as natural, the plaintiff says the company had a financial incentive for misrepresenting the product's ingredients. 

A sour taste

Malic acid is a natural ingredient found in certain fruits and vegetables — deriving its name from the Latin word for apple, "malus," from which it was first isolated — and it has a tart flavoring with various uses in processed foods. The ingredient is most famously deployed to add sourness to products such as Peach Teas and "Salt & Vinegar" potato chips. While it can be derived naturally, the lawsuit claims that this process is costly and rarely used when large quantities are needed, such as for a product sold at a national grocery store chain. DL malic acid, the lawsuit explains, is derived from petrochemicals, specifically the "catalytic oxidation of benzene," as opposed to food products. 

This is not the first time that the discount grocery store has faced legal scrutiny in California. It has been under fire for several California Business & Professions Code violations, California Consumer Legal Remedies Act violations, and a breach of product warranties. Aldi is currently facing another class action suit, one regarding its oatmeal products. According to the Madison-St. Clair Record of Illinois resident Tiffany Hassard alleges the company inflates the number of half-cup servings on its 42 ounce oatmeal containers. Though the label says that roughly 30 servings are included, Hassard's suit says the number is closer to 26 and that Aldi knowingly bases their price on the larger number, bilking customers out of the difference.