Vitaminwater Label, Name Misleading, Judge Tells Coca-Cola

yep alCoca-Cola owns the Glaceau vitaminwater brandWhen drinking Glaceau vitaminwater, consumers tend to believe it's an essentially healthful beverage, said a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, who rejected brand owner Coca-Cola's motion to dismiss the lawsuit brought last year by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Judge John Gleeson "took note of the fact that the FDA frowns upon names of products that mention some ingredients to the exclusion of more prominent ingredients such as, in the case of vitaminwater, added sugar," the CSPI said in a press release last week.

Reinforcing Mistaken Beliefs

Both the name "vitaminwater" and the names of the individual flavors -- such as "defense," "energy" and "revive" -- have "the potential to reinforce a consumer's mistaken belief that the product is comprised of only vitamins and water," Gleeson said in his opinion.

Most potentially troubling for Coca-Cola (KO) is the assertion by Gleeson that use of the word "healthy" in product labeling violates the Food and Drug Administration's regulations on vitamin-fortified foods. Coca-Cola, says Gleeson, is "making health claims about vitaminwater even though it does not meet required minimum nutritional thresholds."

Coca-Cola, in its motion to dismiss, had argued that simply listing the sugar among the ingredients on its label was sufficient disclosure, but Gleeson found this was not enough, using as an example the images of fruit on Gerber's Fruit Juice Snacks, which were found to be misleading in an earlier case, given that the ingredients were mostly corn syrup and sugar.

CSPI called the decision a victory, describing its planned next steps in the lawsuit as deposing Coca-Cola executives and proceeding with document discovery. CSPI's litigation director, Steve Gardner, launched his arguments early, saying "Coca-Cola has been exploiting Americans' desire to eat and drink more healthfully by deceiving them into thinking that vitaminwater can actually prevent disease."

Responding to Consumer Demand?

As the CSPI considers another lawsuit against McDonald's (MCD), seeking the removal of toys in Happy Meals (but, so far, not the use of the word "happy," even though the consumption of junk food has been shown to be correlated with depression), Coca-Cola has launched into its marketing of vitaminwaterZERO, a "naturally sweetened" no-calorie water drink. Its flavors include names like "go-go," "recoup," "rise" and "squeezed" -- evocative of the health benefits, perhaps, but not so boldly stated as the vitaminwater flavors included in the lawsuit.

Whether these products are part of ongoing strategy in response to consumer demands for more healthful vitamin-fortified water drinks or a safe haven to retreat to should the lawsuit eventually go against the company's $4.2 billion brand, is anyone's guess. It's probably some of each.

If it were my decision, I would retreat to Glaceau's original "fruitwater" product, which was much simpler and not sweetened at all. The health claims were nil, and the product, in my opinion, was vastly superior. But in 2010, it seems, misleading health claims are far more lucrative than mere deliciousness.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Income Investing

Grow your nest-egg.

View Course »

Investor’s Toolbox

Improve your investing savvy with the right financial toolset.

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:

i agree sue them they make crap all sugar thats why kids are so fat drinking all this crap water and pure fruit juices is the way to go they need to sue these fast food places and put them all out of business

August 07 2010 at 3:23 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Isn't there a Nutrient statement on EVERY single bottle of this drink? Yes there is. That is how I am able to look at the guide and pick out the flavor that has 0% Sugar in it. That is what it is there for.

It states it plainly.

August 06 2010 at 6:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm the Willy Wonka of soft drinks. Vitamins are amino acids and amino acids come from cells. In the case of a drink, mostly from fruit cells. Living fruit cells contain a liquid called cytoplasm which contains the vitamins, but also starches, sugars, and nearly 100 million other good compounds none of us can even identify as yet. The best way to release this cytoplasm is to run your fruit through a juicer. For example, put some papaya chunks & orange wedges through a juicer. Add the resulting juice to your glass along with a small amount of water & a sweetener, and you have the healthiest, best tasting beverage there is....Alfred Schrader

August 06 2010 at 4:56 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

They can call it Vitasugar-water

August 06 2010 at 12:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply