Suing Jelly Belly because their jelly beans have sugar — sounds ridiculous, and it kinda is. But, Jessica Gomez of San Bernardino, California just might have a point worth making on behalf of consumers with a class action lawsuit she filed earlier this year.
The lawsuit revolves around Jelly Belly’s line of SportBeans, which are made for performance athletes. Don’t snort at that, either — the beans are loaded with carbs (including sugar) and electrolytes, which is genuinely useful for distance runners and cyclists, or any performance athlete looking to keep their energy levels up.
Gomez took issue with the nutrition facts — on the back of the bag, evaporated cane juice is listed as an ingredient. Evaporated cane juice is, of course, not juice. It is the solid stuff that is left over when cane juice is evaporated — you know, sugar. The FDA has said as much, going so far as to specifically call out the use of ‘evaporated cane juice’ as misleading last year.
The misleading use of ‘evaporated cane juice’ is at the heart of the motion, but Gomez’s class action suit might have made too big of a stretch. The court filing reads in part, “Plaintiff claims that she purchased Sports Beans in reliance on Defendant’s labeling of the product. On behalf of a nationwide putative class, Plaintiff alleges that consumers would not have purchased the product, or would not have paid as much, had they known that Jelly Belly’s Sport Beans contained sugar.”
Predictably, that’s what Jelly Belly pounced on. That argument implies that sugar content runs counter to the purpose the Sport Beans are supposed to serve — something that isn’t true, as sugar does provide precisely the kind of energy athletes need during exercise. It’s also true that while the ingredient list says ‘evaporated cane juice,’ the sugar content on the nutrition label did show the sugar content of the beans. That led the company to call the suit “nonsense.”
There’s nonsense coming from both sides. The second argument makes no sense, because the Sport Beans, by their nature, are supposed to have sugar. But, it’s also true that the only reason to call sugar ‘evaporated cane juice’ on your label is to be misleading. The FDA has said as much and issued a warning about doing so to companies.
The most bizarre part of all is that there doesn’t seem to be a huge reason for Jelly Belly to be misleading in this way. The athletes they’re trying to market these beans to are already going to know that they want a certain level of sugar content. They aren’t going to be less likely to buy the beans if the label says sugar! So, what other reason would Jelly Belly have to use ‘evaporated cane juice’ than to get non-athletes to buy the beans by making them look healthier than they are? If that’s the case, they’re being misleading and they deserve to get sued.