In the summer of 2017, Susan Wrublewski of Framingham, Massachusetts caught a commercial for Honey Bunches of Oats cereal on TV. The box was covered in a large yellow sunburst with a wooden honey dipper at center, dripping with golden strands of the sweet, sticky stuff.
Like a lot of people, Wrublewski was worried about the processed sugar in her diet. She thought a cereal sweetened with honey might be better. So she made Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds part of her morning routine.
But she would eventually feel deceived. Last year, she and another Massachusetts woman, Anita Lima, sued Post Consumer Brands—the Lakeville, Minnesota company that makes the cereal—for deceptive marketing.
Even with the giant honey dipper, the bumble bee, and the all-caps “HONEY” emblazoned on the box, honey is not actually the primary sweetener in Honey Bunches of Oats. That would be plain old white, granulated sugar. Followed by corn syrup. And molasses.
“A product branded Honey Bunches of Oats that pictorially conveys cereal being covered with honey and a bee in flight hardly means to a reasonable consumer that the product is mostly sweetened with sugar and other processed substances, or, moreover, that it contains only a miniscule amount of honey,” the suit read.
As a result, Wrublewski and Lima enjoyed the sugar-sweetened cereal, thinking they were snacking on mostly all-natural goodness. They wanted damages, attorney’s fees, and any “further relief” a judge deemed just and proper.
But Post filed a motion to dismiss the suit, saying it never said honey was the main sweetener in the cereal—just the main flavor. If the plaintiffs didn’t bother to read the ingredients listed on the side of the box, that was their fault.
In August, U.S. District Court Judge Allison Burroughs granted Post’s request and tossed the suit. The packaging, she said, was “fully compliant” with the feds’ rules on marketing.
Before you rush to judgment, know Wrublewski and Lima are far from the first to attempt this. Other lawsuits have tried and failed to take breakfast cereals to task for seemingly playing to healthy instincts while not delivering healthy outcomes. General Mills dodged a class-action suit in 2016 for describing its products as “healthy,” “nutritious,” and “wholesome,” even though sugar accounts for nearly a third of the calories in Honey Nut Cheerios.
Similar suits have been brought against both Post and Kellogg for marketing products as rich in whole grains, vitamins, and minerals, all without warning consumers about the “toxic” amounts of sugar in cereals like Frosted Mini Wheats.
Wrublewski and Lima petitioned for Burroughs to reconsider, but she didn’t budge. This lawsuit, like so many others, has hit a dead, bitter end.