If you have purchased any food product that contains the word “maple” and the ingredients do not list maple syrup or maple sugar, you may you have a false advertising claim, and you are encouraged to contact this office.
Some consumers have questioned whether certain products, such as Quaker Oats Maple & Brown Sugar and Cream of Wheat Maple Brown Sugar instant oatmeal actually contain any maple syrup. To maple syrup producers and consumers alike, there are important differences between artificial maple and the real thing.
In February of 2016, the Vermont Maple Sugar Maker’s Association (VMSMA) sent a letter asking the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take action against certain companies. In the letter, VMSMA informed FDA:
“Maple syrup, a premium ingredient, plainly has a material bearing on the price and/or consumer acceptance of food products that contain it, which is why it is frequently an ingredient named in the title of foods or displayed on its packaging. Thus, if a product name includes “maple,” or its packaging emphasizes the presence of maple (e.g., through vignettes of maple syrup, leaves, and trees), but the product does not actually contain any maple syrup, it is unlawfully misbranded under this regulation 21 CFR § 102.5].” (VMSMA Letter to FDA, 2/15/16)…The following products are examples misbranding [sic] under 21 CFR § 102.5:
- MOM Brands’ Better Oats Maple & Brown Sugar Instant Oatmeal with Flax,
- Madhava Natural Sweeteners Maple Agave Nectar,
- Honey Stinger Organic Maple Waffle,
- Quaker Oats Maple & Brown Sugar Instant Oatmeal,
- Quaker Oats Maple & Brown Sugar High Fiber Instant Oatmeal,
- GU Maple Bacon Energy Gel, Quaker Oats Maple Pecan Raisin Flavored Oatmeal,
- Hood Ice Cream Maple Walnut. (VMSMA Letter to FDA, 2/15/16).
On March 10, 2016, twenty-four lawmakers signed a letter urging the FDA to investigate false maple claims. The letter stated in part:
“Maple syrup is a pure product, made 100 percent by concentrating the sap of maple trees. Pure maple syrup production (sugaring) provides income to an estimated 10,000 maple producers across 10 states in the Northwest and Upper Midwest, including Vermont, New York, Maine, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Michigan, Ohio, Massachusetts and Connecticut. The United States produced 3.4 million gallons of maple syrup in 2015, worth approximately $100 million dollars. For some, sugaring is full-time work, while others tap trees to supplement their income, providing an important source of earnings for many rural families.”
Two days earlier, the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association wrote a letter to Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, asking her office to investigate violators of the Massachusetts Maple Law.
The letter states in part:
“A number of Massachusetts-based companies are in violation of the law as well, such asWilbraham-based Friendly’s, with their Maple Walnut ice cream. Dunkin’ Donuts, with their headquarters in Canton, has eight varieties of baked goods labeled as maple, and none of them have any maple syrup or maple sugar listed in their ingredients. Honey Dew Donuts, based in Plainville, has a Maple Cream Coffee listing, which also contains no maple syrup. Lynfield’s Hood Ice Cream also sells a Maple Walnut flavor with no maple syrup listed as an ingredient.”
To date, the FDA has not launched any maple-related enforcement actions, despite repeated urgings to do so. And, the Massachusetts Attorney General has also declined to take action.
Government inaction is inexcusable here, because inauthentic maple products present a real economic injury to farmers and consumers. The lack of action by states with strict labelling laws concerning the use of the word “maple” on food products sends the message that flouting maple laws is permissible.
What are the laws on false advertising and Maple?
There are a number of state laws governing advertisement concerning maple products. For example, there is the Massachusetts Maple Law:
No person shall manufacture, label, package, sell, keep for sale, expose or offer for sale any food article or food product branded as maple, maple syrup, maple candy, maple creams, maple butter, or maple sugar which is not made from pure maple syrup derived from the sap of the maple tree. Any compound or mixture branded or labelled as maple, maple syrup, maple candy, maple creams, maple butter or maple sugar, or branded as an imitation thereof, which consists of maple syrup mixed with any other substances or ingredients shall have printed on the package containing such compound or mixture a statement of the ingredients of which it is made, all said ingredients to be set forth in the same size type as the words “maple syrup”.
The use of the words “maple” or “maple syrup”, shall not be used in the labelling or branding of any food product which does not contain any maple syrup in its ingredients. M.G.L. ch. 128, § 36C.
Vermont’s Maple Law:
All maple flavored products shall be clearly labeled on their principal display panel or panels in a manner which will alert the purchaser to the fact that the product is not a 100 percent pure maple product, in accordance with the Act and other applicable statutes and regulations, such as CP 120.
Artificial maple flavored products shall be clearly and conspicuously labeled on their principal display panel or panels with the term “artificial flavor” shall be of a size equal to, or larger than, other words used to describe the product. It is unlawful to use the terms “maple syrup” or “maple sugar,” however modified, to describe an artificially flavored product.
No person shall advertise any maple syrup, maple product, maple flavored product, or artificial maple flavored product in any manner which is untruthful, unfair, or deceptive. CVR 20-011-002 (2013)
Examples of Questionable “Maple” Products
Below is a photograph of a Quaker Maple instant cereal box:
Other products that use the word “maple” in product descriptions may be in violation of the Massachusetts Maple Law:
For instance, there is Madhava’s maple flavored agave product line, and Stop & Shop has a whole line of questionable “Bacon Maple” products,
such as Maple Bacon Gelato,
Maple Cream Craft Brewed Soda,
and Blueberry Caramel Maple Ice Cream.
And, Walmart sells a product called Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats Maple Brown Sugar Whole Grain Cereal.
CVS sells an instant hot cereal that may be a bogus maple product:
Examples of Real Maple Products
Obviously, there are many products that have the right to claim “maple” because they are bona fide maple goods.
For example, Green Mountain Creamery Maple Greek Yogurt (ingredients pictured below) actually contains maple syrup. It is a premium, high value food item.
The History of Maple-Related “Food Fraud”
“Food fraud” is a type of false advertising in which the seller misrepresents the nature, quality, or character of the food product being sold. An egregious example of food fraud would be selling horsemeat labelled as beef.
There have been a number of notable maple-related food fraud cases in the past. For example, McDonald’s found itself in trouble with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food & Markets in 2011.
The Quaker Maple Case
VMSMA’s letter to FDA and the news coverage that followed inspired a class action lawsuit against Quaker Oats, Eisenlord v. The Quaker Oats Company, et al, filed in California on March 1, 2016.
The Hostess “Maple Glazed” Mini Donuts Case
On May 23, 2016, this office, with co-counsel from California, New York, and Boston, started a new maple-related class action. The VanCleave v. Hostess Complaint alleges that Hostesses’ miniature maple glazed donuts or “donettes” do not contain any maple syrup or maple sugar and are therefore misbranded under state and federal law.
Related Laws and Regulations