Woman Sues Jelly Belly for Deceptive Practice of Adding Sugar

Pretty much just sugar and starch. Photo: David Paul Morris/Getty Images

A California woman is suing Jelly Belly for supposedly tricking her, someone who bought jelly beans with 25 grams of carbs per ounce, into believing this product contained a negligible amount of sugar. Jessica Gomez filed her case earlier this year in California, arguing that the “fancy phrasing” on Jelly Belly’s ingredients list caused her confusion. Its attorneys call Gomez’s lawsuit “nonsense,” and write that she “could not have seen ‘evaporated cane juice’ without also seeing the product’s sugar content on its Nutrition Facts panel,” which in fact does say “Includes 19g Added Sugars” in pretty large letters.

The one wrinkle is that she ate Jelly Belly Sport Beans, a product marketed as an energy supplement to athletes. As a rule, this stuff pretty much always has carbs, but Gomez contends Jelly Belly used the words “evaporated cane juice” in the ingredients, instead of saying “sugar” specifically, so that Sport Beans would look more attractive to athletes. Jelly Belly asks rhetorically in its court filing why athletes who eat a product created to help them “sustain intense exercise” would ever imagine it was low in sugar. “No reasonable consumer could have been deceived by Sport Beans’ labeling,” the lawyers argue, letting you draw your own conclusions about where that leaves Gomez on this continuum.

Her class-action suit claims consumers are being deceived by Jelly Belly’s euphemistic labeling, and believe it or not, the FDA has said things that suggest it kind of agrees. About a year ago, it strongly advised food manufacturers to quit using phrases like “evaporated cane juice” and “dried cane syrup” to describe sugar. Jelly Belly evidently didn’t see any need to go along with that advice then, and argues that this still doesn’t clear up why “an athlete — or anyone — would be surprised to find sugar in a product described as ‘Jelly Beans.’” The company has filed for dismissal.

Interestingly, a search through archived Jelly Belly web pages shows that the company changed the online ingredients list for Sport Beans sometime between September 9 and October 10 of 2016. All the flavors used to have “evaporated cane juice” as the first ingredient, but now the lists start with plain old “cane sugar.”

Jelly Belly Sued for Deceptive Practice of Adding Sugar