"Natural" Nature Valley Products Have Unnatural Ingredients, Says Lawsuit

cereal bars and snack bars

Bars Have Factory-Made High-Maltose Corn Syrup, Maltodextrin

Nature Valley goes to great length to market its granola bars and "thins" as "natural," even though they contain industrially produced artificial ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup, high-maltose corn syrup, and maltodextrin, according to a lawsuit filed today against Nature Valley parent company General Mills.

"Our Chewy Trail mix bars are made with delicious combinations of 100% natural ingredients like whole almonds, cranberries, peanuts, and pomegranate," is how the company describes Nature Valley Chewy Trail Mix bars on labels. The front of the package describes the product as "100% NATURAL," and a side panel notes that Nature Valley "is proud to be the official natural granola bar for" the U.S. Olympic Ski Team and the PGA golf tour. Yet the product contains high-maltose corn syrup and maltodextrin.

According to the complaint, high-maltose corn syrup and maltodextrin are both produced by applying acids, enzymes, or acids and enzymes in sequence to corn starch, depolymerizing the starch to glucose and maltose. The acids or enzymes are then neutralized, removed, or deactivated, and the resulting product is then refined, purified, and concentrated.

"High maltose corn syrup and maltodextrin are highly processed, do not exist in nature, and not even under the most elastic possible definition could they be considered 'natural,'" said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. CSPI's litigation department is acting as co-counsel in the suit.

High-maltose corn syrup and/or maltodextrin are in dozens of Nature Valley varieties including various flavors of Sweet & Salty Nut bars, Chewy Trail Mix bars, and Granola Thins. Packages for Dark Chocolate Granola Thins tout "[t]he uniquely delicate crunch of crispy granola paired with an irresistible, melt-in-your-mouth taste-all in a 100% natural square."

Besides the deceptive labeling and marketing copy on packages, Nature Valley's web and social media presence surrounds itself with images of forests, mountains, lakes, deserts, beaches, and other natural imagery, and shows hikers, backpackers, and divers eating the products. A caption reads, "[N]o matter how many flavors we create, you can be assured that with Nature Valley you’re always getting The Taste Nature Intended."

"My daughter's special diet requires that I select natural products and avoid artificial dyes, sweeteners, or additives—and I'm willing to pay a little bit more for products that are truly 'all natural,'" said Amy McKendrick, a resource teacher from Kern County, Calif., a plaintiff in the suit. "Who would assume that a '100% Natural' product from a company called Nature Valley would have these factory-refined ingredients?" CSPI privately raised concern with General Mills over Nature Valley "Natural" claims in July 2010. General Mills responded be indicating they would work to eliminate high-fructose corn syrup from the product line. While few, if any, Nature Valley products still contain high-fructose corn syrup, many still do contain high-maltose corn syrup and maltodextrin.

"Few companies would like to brag that their ingredients are 'fresh from the factory,' but that's exactly where high-maltose corn syrup and maltodextrin come from," said CSPI assistant director of litigation Seema Rattan. "General Mills is misleading consumers when it suggests otherwise."

The lawsuit was filed in United States District Court in the Northern District of California, on behalf of McKendrick and another California woman, both of whom sought out natural products on medical advice. The suit says Nature Valley's labeling and advertising is in violation of several California consumer protection laws, including the California Legal Remedies Act, the Unfair Competition Law, and the False Advertising Law. Besides CSPI's litigation unit, the San Francisco law firms of Baker Law, P.C., and Sherman Business Law are representing the consumers. Besides seeking certification to proceed as a class action, the plaintiffs seek to stop General Mills from making deceptive natural claims on Nature Valley products.