False Advertising Suit Against Pet Food Company Dismissed

District of Minnesota Judge Patrick J. Schlitz dismissed a false advertising suit on Tuesday brought by Acana and Orijen kibble purchasers against Champion Petfoods USA, Inc., and Champion Petfoods LP, the manufacturers.

The plaintiffs alleged they “purchased Champion’s dog food rather than cheaper alternatives in reliance on the representations made by Champion on its packaging.” The specific statements on the packaging the plaintiffs claimed they relied on were: “Biologically Appropriate,” “Fresh Regional Ingredients,” “Nourish as Nature Intended,” and “Delivering Nutrients Naturally.” The plaintiffs argued that these statements were false or misleading because the dog food may have contained “heavy metals,” “BPA,” “pentobarbital, and non-fresh, non-regional ingredients.”

The purchasers alleged “violations of five Minnesota consumer-protection statutes,” among other common law claims. The plaintiffs did not claim that their dogs were harmed, but rather that “they were harmed because they paid a high price for what they” falsely believed “was premium dog food.”

The court recognized that each cause of action requires the plaintiffs to “plausibly allege that” either “Champion’s affirmative misrepresentations” or “Champion’s material omissions” “could deceive a reasonable consumer.” The court noted that “dismissal is warranted” where the allegations “are premised on an implausible interpretation of a packaging statement.” The court addresses why each allegedly infringing phrase was not a misrepresentation.

Champion asserted that “biologically appropriate” means that their product “mirror[s] the richness, freshness and variety” of “a dog’s natural prey,” is “protein-rich,  and carbohydrate limited.”  The purchasers argued that the term meant the food was “made from all fresh ingredients, does not contain any amount of heavy metals or BPA,” and is processed to avoid pentobarbital contamination. The court found that “biologically appropriate” meant “little more than that the contents of the bag are fit for consumption by the living organism that will eat them.”

The plaintiffs claimed that a reasonable consumer would interpret “Fresh Regional Ingredients” to mean that “100%” “of the ingredients” were “fresh” and “regional.” The purchasers argued that the statement is deceptive because “every package of Champion dog food contains at least some non-fresh and non-regional ingredients.” The court pronounced that Champion “merely represented that some of their ingredients” were fresh and that statements elsewhere on the packaging “ma(d)e clear that not all of the ingredients are fresh.” Similarly, the packaging stated that Champion merely “focuses” on local ingredients.

The court determined that the phrase “nourish as nature intended” is “non-actionable puffery” because it was “too vague to be prove(n) or disprove(n).” The court also found that the phrase “delivering nutrients naturally” is not deceptive. While the court agrees with the plaintiffs that the phrase means the food “contain(ed) substances necessary,” or beneficial “for growth and health without artificial aid,” the court recognized that the plaintiffs had not alleged that to be untrue, nor had they shown that the dog food was unhealthy or harmed any dogs.

The court ultimately declared, that while plaintiffs “are understandably perturbed about having paid a premium price for dog food in response to a skilled marketing campaign, only to find that the dog food did not live up to their expectations,” they had failed to state a plausible claim because they failed to “identify a particular false, misleading, or deceptive statement.” The court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss, with prejudice.

Champion was represented by Siegel Brill, P.A., and Greenberg Traurig. The plaintiffs were represented by Gustafson Gluek PLLC, Wexler Wallace LLP, Lockridge Grindal Nauen PLLP, Andrews Devalerio LLP, and Robbins LLP.