Plaintiff Kevin McCann launched a putative class action against The UCAN Company (“UCAN”), which markets and distributes a line of sports performance products including “Generation UCAN SuperStarch Drink Mix,” “Generation UCAN Protein Drink Mix,” and “UCAN Snack Bars powered by SuperStarch.” The products all contain “SuperStarch,” which UCAN claims to be an easily digestible carbohydrate that promotes “‘sustained energy,’ ‘optimized performance’ ‘enhanced fat burn’ and ‘speedier recovery,’ all without the harmful and performance-impairing side effects associated with gastrointestinal distress.” SuperStarch is allegedly hydrothermally modified waxy maize starch, the carbohydrates in which have a lower glycemic index than those that are not hydrothermally modified.
But, according to McCann’s complaint, the science behind SuperStarch is anything but settled. Although one 2011 study showed that the starch did lead to lower insulin spikes and a higher level of fat breakdown than a sweetener called maltodextrin, but that there was no difference in performance between people who took the starch versus people taking maltodextrin. The white papers on the efficacy of SuperStarch were authored by a member of UCAN’s advisory board and “contain many unsubstantiated claims tricked up to look like science.” The complaint further alleges that a study by the Florida State University Institute of Sports Sciences and Medicine showed no improvement in athlete performance from taking SuperStarch before or during exercise, and that it actually hurt performance by causing digestive issues.
The suit seeks to join a national class of all persons in the United States who purchased UCAN’s the SuperStarch products and two subclasses for purchasers in states with similar consumer fraud laws under the facts of the case, and demands restitution, compensatory and punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees under various state consumer protection statutes. UCAN has yet to answer suit.
Takeaway: Advertisers should ensure any scientific claims linked to advertised products are substantiated by peer-reviewed scientific studies—not simply internal data— to avoid costly consumer protection suits.