nature valley thinsWith a name like Nature Valley, it has to be natural, right? Well, what does “natural” mean exactly?

That’s the question asked in a lawsuit filed this week against Nature Valley parent company General Mills. The suit was filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) on behalf of two Californian women, who were seeking natural products as a result of medical advice.  

Specifically, the complaint claims that General MIlls’ use of ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup, high-maltose corn syrup, and maltodextrin in Nature Valley products mean the brand’s products are not natural.

"High maltose corn syrup and maltodextrin are highly processed, do not exist in nature, and not even under the most elastic possible definition could they be considered 'natural,'" says Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the CSPI.

General Mills says they are aware of a press release from the CSPI detailing the lawsuit, but they have not yet been served and declined to comment further.

High-maltose corn syrup and/or maltodextrin are in dozens of Nature Valley varieties including various flavors of Sweet & Salty Nut bars, Chewy Trail Mix bars, and Granola Thins. Packages for Dark Chocolate Granola Thins tout "[t]he uniquely delicate crunch of crispy granola paired with an irresistible, melt-in-your-mouth taste-all in a 100% natural square."

"My daughter's special diet requires that I select natural products and avoid artificial dyes, sweeteners, or additives—and I'm willing to pay a little bit more for products that are truly 'all natural,'" says Amy McKendrick, a resource teacher from Kern County, Calif., and a plaintiff in the suit. "Who would assume that a '100% Natural' product from a company called Nature Valley would have these factory-refined ingredients?"

CSPI says it privately raised concern with General Mills over Nature Valley "Natural" claims in July 2010. General Mills responded by indicating they would work to eliminate high-fructose corn syrup from the product line. While few, if any, Nature Valley products still contain high-fructose corn syrup, many still do contain high-maltose corn syrup and maltodextrin.

"Few companies would like to brag that their ingredients are 'fresh from the factory,' but that's exactly where high-maltose corn syrup and maltodextrin come from," says CSPI assistant director of litigation Seema Rattan. "General Mills is misleading consumers when it suggests otherwise."

The lawsuit was filed in United States District Court in the Northern District of California.