The debate over Smuckers’ “Simply 100 Percent Fruit” claim is spreading to Dane County Circuit Court.
Watertown, Wis., native Neal Loeb filed a lawsuit last week against the J.M. Smucker Company, claiming a recent analysis by the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that some, if not all of Smuckers’ “Simply 100 Percent Fruit” products actually contain less than 50 percent fruit.
The strawberry spread only contains 30 percent real strawberries, and the blueberry spread contains only 43 percent blueberries, according to CSPI’s analysis.
The lawsuit says that Smuckers’ “Simply 100 Percent Fruit” claim violates the Wisconsin Deceptive Trade Act, which bans the use of statements that are untrue, deceptive or misleading in advertisements. The suit also contends the company sold the fruit spreads at higher prices, even though they knew the actual contents.
Loeb said he plans to request class-action status for the lawsuit, claiming that Smuckers has sold “hundreds of thousands, if not millions” of jars of the fruit spread.
Consumers who file deceptive advertising suits are not likely to win, although it is not impossible, according to Ivan Preston, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin Journalism School and an expert on deceptive advertising.
Preston said consumers frequently do not have adequate evidence to win lawsuits against advertisers, even if the consumers’ charges are true.
Preston said companies often escape convictions on technicalities.
“Companies don’t so often use straight, verifiable facts that can easily be shown as false if they are false,” Preston said. “More often, they play tricks like this. They are very good at knowing which claims are vulnerable to attack and which are not so vulnerable.”
Preston said calling the product a “fruit spread” is a possible technicality in the Smuckers case. The company could say the meaning of “fruit spread” is taken by consumers to mean a product that is partly solid fruit and partly fruit syrup. If that argument is accepted, then the product is technically 100 percent fruit, he said.
Although Preston might not accept Smuckers’ practices, he said the state’s consumer-protection office, which enforces Wisconsin’s deceptive-trade laws, might let Smuckers slide by on a technicality.
Courtney Harrison, a UW senior and loyal Smuckers consumer, said she thinks the lawsuit is a waste of Loeb’s time.
“Maybe it is false advertising, but it’s not like it is endangering his health in any way. If you want 100 percent fruit, go out and pick some strawberries and put them on your toast,” she said.
Harrison also said consumers should be able to see through advertising claims.
“Maybe they shouldn’t have claimed it, but what are they going to say? ’69 percent fruit, 31 percent corn syrup — come buy my jam’? I don’t think it is that bad,” she said.
Smuckers spokesperson Brenda Dempsey said Smuckers does not talk about pending lawsuits and is unable to comment on the case.