By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) -Starbucks was ordered by a federal judge on Monday to face a lawsuit claiming that several of its Refresher fruit beverages lacked a key ingredient: fruit.
U.S. District Judge John Cronan in Manhattan rejected Starbucks’ request to dismiss nine of the 11 claims in the proposed class action, saying “a significant portion of reasonable consumers” would expect their drinks to contain fruit mentioned in their names.
Consumers complained that Starbucks’ Mango Dragonfruit, Mango Dragonfruit Lemonade, Pineapple Passionfruit, Pineapple Passionfruit Lemonade, Strawberry Açai and Strawberry Açai Lemonade Refreshers contained none of the advertised mango, passion fruit or açai.
The plaintiffs Joan Kominis, of Astoria, New York, and Jason McAllister, of Fairfield, California, said the main ingredients were water, grape juice concentrate and sugar, and that Starbucks’ misleading names caused them to be overcharged. They said this violated their states’ consumer protection laws.
In seeking a dismissal, Seattle-based Starbucks said the product names described the drinks’ flavors as opposed to their ingredients, and its menu boards accurately advertised those flavors.
It also said no reasonable consumers would have been confused, and its baristas could have “sufficiently dispelled” any confusion if consumers had questions.
But the judge said that unlike the term “vanilla,” the subject of many lawsuits, “nothing before the court indicates that ‘mango,’ ‘passionfruit,’ and ‘açaí’ are terms that typically are understood to represent a flavor without also representing that ingredient.”
Cronan also said confusion might be understandable because other Starbucks products contain ingredients in their names – for example, Ice Matcha Tea Latte contains matcha and Honey Citrus Mint Tea contains honey and mint.
The judge dismissed a fraud claim, finding no proof Starbucks intended to defraud consumers, and an unjust enrichment claim.
Starbucks in a statement called the allegations in the lawsuit “inaccurate and without merit,” and said it looked forward to defending itself.
The lawsuit began in August 2022, and alleged at least $5 million in damages. Robert Abiri, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, said he was pleased with the decision and looked forward to representing the proposed class.
The case is Kominis et al v Starbucks Corp, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 22-06673.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Aurora Ellis, Richard Chang, William Maclean)