19 September 2023, Mumbai: Starbucks, the global coffee giant, is facing a lawsuit after a federal judge, U.S. District Judge John Cronan, ruled on Monday that it must proceed to address allegations that several of its Refresher fruit beverages did not contain the fruit ingredients suggested by their names. Rejecting Starbucks’ request to dismiss nine of the 11 claims in the proposed class action, Judge Cronan stated that “a significant portion of reasonable consumers” would expect these drinks to include the fruits indicated in their names.
The lawsuit originated from consumers’ complaints that Starbucks’ beverages, including Mango Dragon
fruit, Mango Dragonfruit Lemonade, Pineapple Passionfruit, Pineapple Passionfruit Lemonade, Strawberry Açai, and Strawberry Açai Lemonade Refreshers, lacked the advertised mango, passion fruit, or açai. Instead, the primary ingredients were found to be water, grape juice concentrate, and sugar. Plaintiffs Joan Kominis and Jason McAllister alleged that Starbucks’ misleading product names led to overcharging, violating consumer protection laws in their respective states.
In response, Starbucks, headquartered in Seattle, argued that the product names described the drinks’ flavors rather than their ingredients. The coffee chain claimed that its menu boards accurately represented these flavors, and that reasonable consumers should not have been confused. Starbucks further contended that its baristas could have clarified any potential confusion if customers had inquiries.
Judge Cronan, however, disagreed with Starbucks’ defense, highlighting that unlike the term “vanilla,” which has been the subject of previous lawsuits, the terms “mango,” “passionfruit,” and “açaí” typically denote both flavors and ingredients. He noted that confusion might be understandable because other Starbucks products clearly include ingredients in their names, such as the Ice Matcha Tea Latte and Honey Citrus Mint Tea.
Claims Dismissed and Starbucks’ Response
While the judge dismissed a fraud claim, finding no evidence of Starbucks intending to deceive consumers, and an unjust enrichment claim, the lawsuit alleging at least $5 million in damages will proceed. Starbucks issued a statement, describing the allegations as “inaccurate and without merit” and expressing its readiness to defend itself.