Friday, May 11, 2012

Sugar in the Raw not deceptively advertised as unprocessed

Rooney v. Cumberland Packing Corp., 2012 WL 1512106 (S.D. Cal.)

Rooney brought a putative class action under the usual California laws on behalf of consumers who bought Sugar in the Raw based on allegedly misleading representations that the product is raw, unprocessed, and unrefined sugar, citing Cumberland’s representations that the product was natural cane turbinado sugar and the product name.  She alleged that she didn’t receive the benefit of her bargain, and that consumers are willing to pay more for raw and natural products than for refined or processed products.

The court agreed with Cumberland that a reasonable consumer couldn’t conclude that the product was completely unprocessed and unrefined.  On nine places, the box says the product is “natural cane turbinado sugar,” which is a form of “raw sugar,” which by definition (known to consumers?) includes turbinado sugar.  “Nowhere on the box do the words ‘unprocessed’ or ‘unrefined’ appear.”  Aside from the brand name, the product isn’t called “raw,” but rather turbinado sugar.  Other turbinado cane sugar product packaging, of which the court took judicial notice, showed that turbinado sugar was widely marketed in the industry as raw cane sugar.  Rooney’s own definition submitted for judicial notice stated that turbinado sugar is a well-known type of raw sugar.  Thus, if Rooney thought she was getting “raw sugar,” she wasn’t deceived: she was.  In addition, the Sugar in the Raw trademark has existed uncontested for 40 years, which means that it wasn’t deceptively misdescriptive (according to the PTO, anyway).

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