Judge Agrees There Isn't Enough Honey in Honey Bunches of Oats, Says Lawsuit Can Move Forward
When grabbing a box of Honey Bunches of Oats cereal, you’re likely to assume a few things: For instance, the cereal almost certainly contains honey and oats and these ingredients are held together in bunches. But would you assume those are the main ingredients? Maybe. And when you found out those aren’t the main ingredients, would you sue Post? Uh… Perhaps? And then would a California court allow that lawsuit to move forward? You bet they would.
Back in July, plaintiff Peter Tucker filed a federal class-action lawsuit in California against Post Consumer Brands alleging that the cereal maker’s “branding and packaging of [Honey Bunches of Oats] cereals convey that honey is the primary sweetener, or at the very least is a significant sweetener,” despite the fact that “the cereals are sweetened primarily with sugar, corn syrup, and other refined substances, and contain only miniscule amounts of honey.” The suit then claims, “Plaintiff and all members were harmed by paying more to purchase the cereals than they would have been willing to pay had their honey content not been misrepresented by Defendant.”
If the lawsuit sounds like a stretch, the ingredients list on the package (for the “with almonds” version) would seem to agree with you. It explicitly states: “Corn, Whole Grain, Wheat, Sugar, Whole Grain Rolled Oats, Almonds, Rice, Canola Oil, Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Corn Syrup, Salt, Molasses, Honey, Caramel Color, Barley Malt Extract, Cinnamon, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Annatto Extract (color).” Sure, you may have liked to see honey and oats higher on that list, but it’s not like they aren’t there at all.
Still, despite Post's request to have the suit thrown out, on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled legal proceedings could move forward. According to Law360, Rogers said—among other reasons for denying a dismissal—that it’s possible consumers might be misled since honey is a primary image on the packaging. She also pointed to a survey provided as evidence by Tucker showing that, out of 400 customers polled, 68 percent thought honey was the primary sweetener, and nearly four-fifths believed honey was at least one of the top three ingredients.
Post Consumer Brands was contacted for comment, but had not responded as of this writing. According to this week’s court filing, Post now has 21 days to respond to the suit.
Importantly, this case is not the first time the Honey Bunches of Oats brand has been sued for this exact reason. In 2018, the same law firm filed a lawsuit against Post featuring different plaintiffs in the state of Massachusetts using virtually identical language, according to MetroWest Daily News and the site Top Class Actions. In that instance, a federal judge granted Post's request to dismiss on multiple occasions the following year, eventually killing the lawsuit entirely. In those decisions, U.S. District Court Judge Allison Burroughs reportedly wrote, “Because Honey Bunches of Oats contains honey, the court found, that under relevant regulations, the packaging was not objectively misleading as a matter of law.”