Jan. 20, 2012 -- A California mother is taking on orange juice giant Tropicana, alleging in a lawsuit that the company's not-from-concentrate Pure Premium juice is "heavily processed" and not a "natural" product.
In a class-action suit filed Jan. 6 in U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California, Angelena Lewis, 32, of Vacaville alleges that the addition of aromas and flavor packs "changes the essential nature" of the juice.
"While Tropicana claims that 'making Tropicana orange juice is truly art,' it is far more a science," the lawsuit alleges.
If the class action moves forward, the lawsuit would represent anyone in the nation who had bought Tropicana Pure Premium, which is made by Tropicana Products, a division of Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo Inc.
They allege that advertising claims are misleading and that Tropicana Products has violated consumer fraud statutes in various states, including California's false-misleading advertising law.
Lawyers have also made their claim under California's Legal Remedies Act and the Unfair Competition Law.
The lawsuit cites the packaging of the Pure Premium brand, "an illustration of an orange with a straw stuck into it, which is meant to convey the message that [not-from-concentrate] juice is fresh from the orange. This reinforces the '100 percent Pure and Natural Orange Juice' claim in large prominent type."
"It is not natural orange juice," according to the complaint. "It is instead a product that is scientifically engineered in laboratories, not nature, which explains its shelf-life of more than two months."
Tropicana spokesman Michael Torres would not address allegations of false advertising, but instead provided a written statement to ABCNews.com.
"Our juice is safe, nutritious and Tropicana remains committed to offering great-tasting 100 percent orange juice with no added sugars or preservatives," Torres wrote. "We take the faith that consumers place in our products seriously and are committed to full compliance with labeling laws and regulations."
Tropicana holds about 40 percent of the market share of all orange juice sold each year and had worldwide retail sales of about $5 billion in 2010, according to the lawsuit.
On its website, Tropicana said each 59-ounce container of Pure Premium has "16 fresh-picked oranges squeezed into it."
"Angelina purchased Tropicana for her family based on the representation Tropicana made on its product label," Lewis' lawyer, Sarah N. Westcot, said. "I think they know people have a preference for natural products and capitalize on that. ... She wouldn't have bought the product if she knew what went in to making the juice."
Under California law involving class action suits, the litigants are seeking an aggregate of at least $5 million, she said.
"It is a national class-action suit on behalf of everyone in the United States," Westcot said. Tropicana has 21 days to file their response.
Westcot said she believes "we have a strong case."
Lewis has not returned a call from ABC News for comment.
The lawsuit comes on the heels of news that trace amounts of the fungicide carbendazim was recently found in some Minute Maid orange juice made by Coca Cola and juices of some of its competitors.
The juices in question were made of oranges imported from Brazil, where that fungicide is legal, and Coca Cola alerted the FDA of the trees had been sprayed with the chemical.
The FDA found no chemicals in Tropicana brands and the company has subsequently said it will use only Florida oranges going forward.
ABCNews.com reported last month that many brands of pasteurized orange juice contain flavor packs. Similar flavorings are used in a variety of foods, including alcoholic beverages, chewing gum and as a solvent in perfumes.
The Food and Drug Administration does not require companies to add flavor packs to the labeling of pasteurized juice (which includes the from-concentrate as well as the not-from-concentrate versions), according to the citrus industry.
As for claims of being a natural product, agency spokesman Siohban DeLancy said, "The FDA has never defined the term, 'natural.' However, we don't object to its use if it is truthful and not misleading."
Citrus Industry Defends Juice-Making Process
The industry as a whole says that the methods generally are essential for keeping up with consumer demand for orange juice.
For the past 30 years, companies have used flavor packs to process what the FDA identifies as "pasteurized" orange juice. That includes top brands such as Tropicana, Minute Maid, Simply Orange and Florida Natural, among others.
After oranges are picked, they are shipped off to be processed. They are squeezed and pasteurized and, if they are not bound for frozen concentrate, are kept in aseptic storage, which involves stripping the juice of oxygen in a process called "deaeration," and kept in million-gallon tanks for up to a year.
Before packaging, the juice is jazzed up with an added flavor pack, gleaned from orange byproducts such as the peel and pulp, to compensate for the loss of taste and aroma during the heating process.
Different brands use different flavor packs to give their product its unique and always consistent taste.
Kristen Gunter, executive director of the Florida Citrus Processors Association, confirmed last month that juices are blended and stored and that flavor packs are added to pasteurized juice before shipping to stores.
Flavor packs are created from the volatile compounds that escape from the orange during the pasteurization step.
But, she said, "It's not made in a lab or made in a chemical process, but comes through the physical process of boiling and capturing the [orange essence]."
The pasteurization process not only makes the food safe, but stabilizes the juice, which separates in its fresh state. Adding the flavor packs ensures a consistent flavor.
"If consumers have the false impression that pasteurized orange juice is not heated or treated because they have a picture of an orange on the carton, then they are not informed," Gunter said.
The lawsuit also alleges that one of the chemicals found in flavor packs in the United States is ethyl butyrate, "further revealing that [the juice] is not pure and natural.
But Doug Kara, a spokesman for the FDA's food safety division, said the chemical is "generally recognized as safe as a food additive for flavoring."
Particularly egregious, alleges the lawsuit, is a video on the company's website, "Tropicana Orange Grove Tour," which shows pristine groves, but none of the processing.
"While Tropicana provides videos and images of its groves in Florida," the complaint says, "it has never advertised or shown pictures of massive orange juice tankers that carry millions of gallons of orange juice cargo in enormous cylindrical tanks, much less trumpeted its dependence upon them and their cargo."