Nestlé faces US lawsuit for allegedly false advertising pet food as ‘natural’16 Nov 2023
Legal action has been brought against Nestlé Purina Petcare in the US, after various products were allegedly falsely marketed as ‘natural’, despite containing multiple synthetic ingredients.
Nestlé Purina Petcare, the world’s second largest pet food manufacturer, is facing multiple lawsuits over its labelling of pet food as "natural" when it allegedly contains synthetic ingredients. The class action lawsuit accuses the company of deceptive advertising and misleading consumers into believing that their products are healthier and more natural than they are.
According to the lawsuit, around 70 products labelled as “natural” by Nestlé Purina contain various ingredients recognised as synthetic by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) such as zinc sulphate, copper sulphate, pyridoxine hydrochloride, menadione sodium bisulphate complex, and xanthan gum. This includes varieties of wet and dry pet foods sold under various brands, such as Purina ONE, Fancy Feast Gourmet Naturals, and Beyond Mixers+.
The class action complaint states that the “defendant’s conduct includes unfair and misleading acts or practices that have the capacity to deceive consumers and are harmful to the public at large”.
The lawsuit also accuses the company’s marketing practices of being “misleading in a material way”, given that the production and quality of the products are “fundamentally misrepresented” by the information provided on the product labels.
Loophole: Lack of legal definition for ‘natural’
The lead plaintiffs in the lawsuits, two pet owners named Adrienne Pietres and Brenda Natoli, argue that the term "natural" has no legal definition when it comes to pet food, and that Nestlé Purina is exploiting this loophole to market its products as healthier and more appealing than they realistically are.
“No product labelled ‘natural’ should contain any of these ingredients,” the lawsuit stated. “And yet, the products contain most, if not all of them.”
Had consumers known the products contained synthetic ingredients, they would not have assumed that they were ‘natural’ and would have refrained from purchasing or would be prepared to pay substantially less for them, according to the plaintiffs.
In light of this issue, paired with the rising consumer interest in the health and wellbeing of their pets, the company is facing increasing scrutiny regarding its labelling practices, and may be liable to pay financial relief to the claimants.
Humanisation is driving demand for premium, natural pet food
Over the next five years, the pet food market is expected to grow by close to 5%, Mordor Intelligence predicts. Last year alone, pet owners in the US spent an estimated total of $124 (€116) billion on their pets, around a third of which was spent on pet food.
As pet ownership rises, consumers are more willing to spend more money on food that supports the health and wellbeing of their pets. A 2023 Mintel report found that 45% of pet owners globally are willing to pay a premium for pet food that is made with natural ingredients.
In many markets globally, popular food industry trends such as rising consumer awareness of the link between diet and health, healthy indulgence, and increased demand for clean label, natural, and plant-based products is being reflected in the pet food space. In Asia, pet food launches carrying a no additives or preservatives claim is increasingly steadily, rising by 12% from 2018 to 2022, according to Mintel.
Asian pet food brands are primarily focussing on fortifying products with vitamins and minerals (29%), adding protein (14%), calcium (6%), and fibre (3%).
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