Trader Joe’s Sued Over Sale of New Zealand Manuka Honey

Here is the lead paragraph in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals case, which I appreciate for succinctness and humor:

            “The parties find themselves in a sticky situation. Trader Joe’s Company (Trader Joe’s) markets its store brand Manuka Honey as “100% New Zealand Manuka Honey” or “New Zealand Manuka Honey,” but Plaintiffs on behalf of a putative class (action) claim that because Trader Joe’s Manuka Honey actually consists of only between 57.3% and 62.6% honey derived from Manuka flower nectar, Trader Joe’s engaged in “false, misleading, and deceptive marketing of its Manuka Honey.” Stung by these accusations, Trader Joe’s counters that its labeling is consistent with all applicable . . . laws.

MANUKA HONEY

            Manuka Honey is a subset of honey whose chief floral source is the flowers of the Manuka bush, a plant native to Australia and New Zealand. Scientific researchers have found that Manuka Honey contains an organic compound in methylglyoxal, which is believed to have antibacterial properties and significant health benefits, particularly when applied topically. Topically? Apparently, it provides efficacy as a dressing for wounds and burns.

            Manuka Honey is expensive. A bottle of Manuka Honey that is 92% derived from Manuka flower nectar costs approximately $21.50 per oz. Trader Joe’s Manuka Honey is a much lower grade and sells for approximately $1.59 per oz. That gets to one of the reasons I like Trader Joe’s. I like a bargain.

CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT V. TRADER JOE’S

            Three plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit claiming Trader Joe’s used false, misleading, and deceptive marketing of its Manuka Honey because it was not “100% New Zealand Manuka Honey.” The plaintiffs acknowledge Trader Joe’s Manuka Honey is approximately 57.3% – 62.6%. Apparently, the label includes a box that reads “10+.” For the sophisticated that means 10+ on a Manuka Honey grading scale ranging between 5 and 26. Was Trader Joe’s guilty of false advertising?

HONEY GUIDELINES

            Yes, of course, there are honey guidelines and requirements for the proper labeling of honey and honey products. As bees forge on different flowering plants, the FDA permits labeling honey, and calling it such if the plant or blossom on the label is the “chief floral source of honey.” For example, “Orange Blossom Honey” is an acceptable name if the beekeeper has reason to believe that Orange Blossoms are the “chief floral source of the honey.” Same with Manuka Honey.

FEDERAL COURT RULING

            The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that because Trader Joe’s Manuka Honey used the Manuka flower as its chief floral source, it was proper to label the honey 100% New Zealand Manuka Honey. The court pointed out that it is literally impossible for foraging bees to collect and manufacture only Manuka Honey, i.e., they gather from all sorts of plants. And buying consumers know that as well. Also, the low price Trader Joe’s Manuka Honey suggests that it is not 100% derived from Manuka.

            The court of appeals upheld the trial court concluding that no reasonable consumer would be misled by Trader Joe’s Manuka Honey labeling.

            Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. These are Jim’s personal opinions. Jim’s practice areas include:  real estate, development, construction, business, HOA’s, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at porter@portersimon.com or www.portersimon.com. Like us on Facebook. ©2021