Coca-Cola's attempt to put a halt to a lawsuit alleging that it's misleading consumers with the marketing of its Vitaminwater line of drinks was shot down by a federal judge in New York.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest and other parties sued Coca-Cola last year, alleging the company is misleading consumers with the name Vitaminwater and with flavor names that include "Rescue" and "Defense." They have also taken issue with the phrase "vitamins + water = all you need" and other health claims made by the drink line, which is owned by Coca-Cola's Glaceau subsidiary.
The plaintiffs contend that second to water, the top ingredient in the drinks is sugar.
"In sum, plaintiffs' allegations sufficiently state a claim that defendants have violated FDA regulations by making health claims about vitaminwater even though it does not meet required minimum nutritional thresholds, by using the word 'healthy' in implied nutrient content claims even though vitaminwater's fortification does not comply with FDA policy, and by using a product name that references only two of vitaminwater's ingredients, omitting the fact that there is a key, unnamed ingredient [sugar] in the product," Judge John Gleeson wrote in a 55-page ruling on Coke's attempt to throw out the case.
The judge also dismissed Coke's arguments that by including sugar as an ingredient on the labels it didn't mislead consumers.
"For too long, Coca-Cola has been exploiting Americans' desire to eat and drink more healthfully by deceiving them into thinking that vitaminwater can actually prevent disease," CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner said in a statement. "In fact, vitaminwater 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."
Coke said people shouldn't read too much into the judge's order.
"[V]itaminwater is a great tasting, hydrating beverage with essential vitamins and water--and labels clearly showing ingredients and calorie content," Scott Williamson of Coca-Cola North America said in a statement sent to Consumer Ally. "The court's opinion yesterday 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."
The Center for Science in the Public Interest has become the nation's food police, aggressively attacking marketing claims the group believes mislead consumers -- particularly those that suggest the products can make you healthier by consuming them.
Consumer Ally created its own guide to understanding the largely unregulated area of food label claims.
The FDA has recently gone after some big companies including Kellogg Rice Krispies over health claims made on food marketed to kids.
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