Litigation surrounding “all natural” claims has been ramping up, and settlements are on the rise.

Naked Juice paid $9 million dollars to settle claims about the “all natural” branding of its juices in 2013.  As of February 6th, Trader Joe’s is following suit and plans to pay out $3.38 million dollars in addition to discontinuing the use of “all natural” and “100% natural” on products that include ascorbic acid, cocoa processed with alkali, sodium acid pyrophosphate, vegetable mono- and diglycerides, and xanthan gum.

The FDA’s failure to define “natural” is contributing to the flurry of “all natural” consumer class actions, and there is no sign that the FDA plans to provide a definition anytime soon.  On January 6, 2014 the FDA declined a request from three federal judges for clarification of the meaning “natural.”

With little guidance from the FDA, companies are trying to find their own ways of avoiding costly lawsuits.  For some, re-branding is the answer.  PepsiCo has already renamed a line of its Frito-Lay chips and Quaker Granola to be called “Simply.”  For others, like Ben and Jerry’s, Breyer’s, and Campbell Soup, past and pending litigation mean backing away from using “natural.”

Sara Ahmed is an associate in Bryan Cave LLP’s San Francisco office and is a member of the firm’s Food & Beverage Practice Team and  Class & Derivative Actions Client Service Group.