Coca-Cola may face court in US over ‘Vitaminwater’
Global beverage giant may face court in the US over claims that it “fraudulently” markets is ‘Vitaminwater’ product as a “healthful alternative” to soft drink, after a Federal Magistrate recommended to a Federal District court that the suit proceed as a class action.
The suit, first filed by the Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and private law firms in January 2009, targets the marketing and labelling of Coca-Cola’s ‘vitaminwater’, which the Plaintiffs said is “misleading” and “fraudulent”. The latest ruling, by US Magistrate Judge Robert M. Levy, recommends that the Plaintiffs be able to litigate for declaratory and injunctive relief, but not for damages.
“This decision puts this case on a glide path toward a jury trial where Coca-Cola will have to defend under penalty of perjury the deceptive claims it has made and continues to make in connection with Vitaminwater,” said Steve Gardner, CSPI Litigation Director.
“That will put the Company in the awkward position of squaring its marketing of Vitaminwater as a healthy, disease-fighting drink with its later assertion that ‘no reasonable consumer’ would ever believe such marketing,” Mr Gardner said.
In 2010, a Federal Judge denied Coca-Cola’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, finding that the Company’s use of the word ‘healthy’ violated Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations for vitamin-fortified foods, and that the claim that the “focus” variety of Vitaminwater could help reduce the risk of eye disease violated other FDA regulations.
The Judge in the 2010 ruling also held that the names of the drinks themselves could “reinforce a consumer’s mistaken belief that the product is comprised of vitamins and water,” especially in light of the fact that “there is a key, unnamed ingredient in the product” (sugar).
“The marketing of Vitaminwater will go down in history as one of the boldest and brashest attempts ever to affix a healthy halo to what is essentially a junk food, a non-carbonated soda,” said Michael F. Jacobson, CSPI Executive Director. “Vitaminwater, like Coca-Cola itself, promotes weight gain, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cannot deliver on any of the dishonest claims it has made over the years,” he said.
In a statement released after the latest ruling, the Coca-Cola Company said it is “very gratified” that Judge Levy denied the monetary damage claims against the Company.
“We firmly believe the plaintiffs’ claims are without merit and will ultimately be rejected,” said Lindsey Raivish, Coca-Cola Communications Director.