Lawsuit Over Deceptive Vitaminwater Claims To Proceed

A federal judge has denied Coca-Cola’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit over what the Center for Science in the Public Interest says are deceptive and unsubstantiated claims on the company’s “vitaminwater” line of soft drinks.

The company claims that vitaminwater variously reduces the risk of chronic disease, reduces the risk of eye disease, promotes healthy joints, and supports optimal immune function, and uses health buzz words such as “defense,” “rescue,” “energy,” and “endurance” on labels.

Besides denying Coca-Cola’s motion to dismiss, the ruling contains other bad omens for the company. Judge John Gleeson of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York found that the company’s use of the word “healthy” violates the Food and Drug Administration’s regulations on vitamin-fortified foods. The FDA’s so-called “Jelly Bean” rule prohibits companies from making health claims on junk foods that only meet various nutrient thresholds via fortification. The judge also found that vitaminwater’s claim on the “focus” flavor of vitaminwater that it “may reduce the risk of age-related eye disease” runs afoul of FDA regulations.

The judge also 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 names of the drinks, along with other statements on the label, “have the potential to reinforce a consumer’s mistaken belief that the product is comprised of only vitamins and water,” Gleeson wrote.

“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,” Gleeson continued.

Vitaminwater is hardly a health drink with 33 grams of sugar in each 20-ounce bottle.

“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,” said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner. “In fact, vitaminwater is no more than non-carbonated soda, providing unnecessary added sugar and contributing to weight gain, obesity, diabetes, and other diseases…..”

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