Amid lawsuit, LaCroix defends its ‘natural’ labeling

The company is being sued over its sparkling water, with plaintiffs asserting the drink contains ingredients found in some insecticides. The suit raises larger issues about truth in packaging.

LaCroix PR crisis

It comes down to parsing the word “natural.”

A class-action suit targets LaCroix and its parent company Natural Beverage Corp., claiming the corporation’s drinks have tested positive for certain compounds considered synthetic by the Food and Drug Administration.

Now the company must defend its products and its reputation.

The suit, filed by law firm Beaumont Costales, made some headlines. USA Today reported:

“LaCroix in fact contains ingredients that have been identified by the Food and Drug Administration as synthetic,” the lawsuit obtained by CBS states. “These chemicals include limonene, which can cause kidney toxicity and tumors; linalool propionate, which is used to treat cancer; and linalool, which is used in cockroach insecticide.”

The lawsuit also states LaCroix makers are aware of the alleged unnatural ingredients.

National Beverage Corp. denies the allegations, saying all essences in LaCroix sparkling waters are all 100 percent natural.

The company denies the allegations, writing in a press release:

The lawsuit provides no support for its false statements about LaCroix’s ingredients. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers “natural” on a food label to be truthful and non-misleading when “nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added.” All LaCroix product labels include an ingredient statement indicating each product contains carbonated water and natural flavors. National Beverage stands by that ingredient statement and the fact that all the flavor essences in LaCroix are natural.

The lawsuit and the companion release that was published this afternoon were false, defamatory and intended to intentionally damage National Beverage and its shareholders. National Beverage will vigorously seek actual and punitive damages among other remedies from everyone involved in the publication of these defamatory falsehoods.

The case boils down to whether LaCroix has been unscrupulous in its use of the word “natural.” Some have pointed out that calling your product natural can be an important differentiator for consumers.

The Washington Post wrote:

Rather, LaCroix’s label — and the plaintiff’s attraction to it — can only be understood in light of a systemic and problematic tendency: the conflation of “natural” with “goodness.” Indeed, “goodness” gets paired with “natural” even more often than “healthy.” It’s no coincidence that “innocent” is part of LaCroix’s brand identity. The word “natural” invokes a religious myth, an origin story about pure beginnings. In a world with giant floating islands of garbage, microplastics polluting the oceans and human-caused climate change ravaging the globe, it makes sense to be suspicious of human tampering.

However, few see much hope for the plaintiffs’ case. The Post continued:

Even if there were a legal definition, it’s unlikely the case against National Beverage would succeed. According to the filing, the plaintiff desired “a healthy, natural beverage” and purchased LaCroix on the basis of advertising and packaging claims that it was “innocent,” “naturally essenced,” “all natural” and “always 100% natural.” These claims are false, alleges Beaumont Costales, the law firm that filed the suit, because testing revealed the presence of synthetic chemicals, including limonene (“which can cause kidney toxicity and tumors”), linalool propionate (“which is used to treat cancer”) and plain old linalool (“which is used in cockroach insecticide”). Yet all three of these chemicals are bioavailable in plants such as lavender and citrus fruits and enjoy widespread use as flavors and fragrances. Whether extracted from plants or synthesized from petrochemicals, there’s no evidence they pose any kind of danger. Neither the explicit accusation of using synthetic chemicals nor the implied health risks of those chemicals holds water.

However, legal ramifications aside, the story is damaging LaCroix’s brand. Particularly potent for consumers is the implication that a compound found in cockroach insecticide might also be in their favorite sparkling water.

However, LaCroix is taking to Twitter with its own message for consumers: Help us defend our good name.

The message has also inspired gallows humor:

Others voice confusion:

Others share their love and support of the beverage:

LaCroix has shared other reports asking for consumers to consider all the facts:

What do you think of Natural Beverage’s crisis response?

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