A judge ruled last week that the pending lawsuit against Coca Cola’s Vitamin Water will proceed. The judge denied Coca Cola’s attempts to dismiss the lawsuit on technical grounds.
In the suit, attorneys representing the health advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest as well as consumers from three different states accuse Vitamin Water of deceptive labeling.
One of the deceptive labeling accusations involves the brand’s claim that its drinks reduce risk of disease. The plaintiffs also take offense to the fact that the name Vitamin Water may cause customers to believe that the drink is made up of only water and healthy vitamins. The name does not lead one to believe that sugar is a central ingredient. However, the 33 grams of sugar in each 20-ounce bottle, as well as calorie content, is displayed on the side of each bottle.
These numbers are listed next to health words such as “defense,” “rescue,” “energy” and “endurance”.
CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner claims that, “For too long, Coca-Cola has been exploiting Americans’ desire to eat and drink more healthfully by deceiving them into thinking that Vitamin Water can actually prevent disease. In fact, Vitamin Water is no more than non-carbonated soda, providing unnecessary added sugar and contributing to weight gain, obesity, diabetes, and other diseases. We look forward to representing all Americans whom Coke has deceived.”
Coca Cola replied with a press release stating the company’s view of the lawsuit. “We don’t need a “healthful” alternative to sodas. All our beverages, including sparkling and diets, can be part of healthful diet. Furthermore, consumers today are aware and are looking for more from their beverages than just hydration. Products like Glacéau Vitamin Water provide a great tasting choice for hydration that also helps contribute to daily needs for some essential nutrients.” It continues, “Put simply, Glacéau Vitamin Water is a great complement to our often less-than-perfect diet.”
The three states involved in the lawsuit include California on behalf of which six claims were filed, New York on behalf of which two were filed, and New Jersey, which filed one claim. The remaining four claims were filed on behalf of all three states. This is a class action lawsuit. Three of the twelve claims were dismissed without prejudice. The motion to dismiss the other nine claims was denied by U.S. District Court of New York Judge John Gleeson.
The case is proceeding under Gleeson, who said that that Vitamin Water’s use of the word “healthy” violates U.S. Food and Drug Administration labeling rules.
In 1994 the FDA passed a rule traditionally referred to as the “Jelly Bean Rule”. It states that foods low in fat, cholesterol, and sodium cannot claim to be “healthy” unless they contain at least 10 percent of: vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, protein, fiber, or iron. Another FDA policy asserted that companies could not include these levels of vitamin content in a product with the sole intent of making that claim.
“The potential for confusion is heightened by the presence of other statements in Vitamin Water’s labeling, such as the description of the product as a ‘vitamin enhanced water beverage’ and the phrases ‘vitamins+water = all you need’ and ‘vitamins+water = what’s in your hand’, which have the potential to reinforce a consumer’s mistaken belief that the product is comprised of only vitamins and water,” Gleeson said, reported by Reuters.
According to FoodManufacturing.com, Coca-Cola spokesman Kenth Kaerhoeg said the court’s opinion “was not a decision on the merits, but simply a determination that the case can proceed beyond the initial pleadings stage. We believe plaintiff’s claims are without merit and will ultimately be rejected”.