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Coca Cola Faces Lawsuit Over Vitamin Water Claims

Jan 16, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP, LLP

Coca-Cola Company is being sued over false claims about some of its beverages in the second such scandal over its deceptive marketing practices.  Reuters just reported that The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CPSI) is suing the soft drink giant in a class action lawsuit that accuses it of making false claims about its Vitaminwater drinks.

This week’s lawsuit follows an earlier warning by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about its marketing of Diet Coke Plus, said Reuters.  Late last month, Reuters reported that Coca-Cola made claims that Diet Coke Plus includes vitamins and minerals.  Those claims violate U.S. policy against marketing soda and other snack foods as more nutritious, or "fortified."

Now, says Reuters, the CSPI is saying Coca-Cola made claims about Vitaminwater that exceed what the FDA permits, saying "Coke markets Vitaminwater as a healthful alternative to soda by labeling its several flavors with such health buzz words as 'defense,' 'rescue,' 'energy,' and 'endurance.'"  The CPSI also said Coca-Cola claims Vitaminwater reduces chronic and eye diseases, promotes healthy joints, and supports immune system function, "In fact, according to CSPI nutritionists, the 33 grams of sugar in each bottle of Vitaminwater do more to promote obesity, diabetes, and other health problems than the vitamins in the drinks do to perform the advertised benefits listed on the bottles," Reuters quoted.

In December, the Wall Street Journal reported that Coca-Cola launched Diet Coke Plus the prior year as a "a good source of vitamins B3, B6, and B12, and the minerals zinc and magnesium."  But, the FDA objected to Coca-Cola’s labeling, said the LA Times, which said the FDA “scolded” Coca-Cola for its “inappropriate nutritional claims” and labeling.  “You should take prompt action to correct the violations," it said in its December letter, reported Reuters.  The FDA could conduct product seizure, levy fines, and seek injunctions, said Reuters, which said manufacturers often try to increase product value by adding nutrients, but that the FDA only allows such claims when the product contains no less than10 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of a vitamin or mineral; however, these claims are not applicable to soda and other products such as candy, according to FDA regulations, said Reuters.

WebMD reported that the FDA said Diet Coke Plus is "misbranded" and Forbes said the December FDA letter said its labeling violates FDA guidelines by using the word “plus” and stating the drink provides "vitamins and minerals," saying that the drink only contains “trace amounts of zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B,” which the FDA says are in amounts insufficient to make such claims, adding that it does not "consider it appropriate to fortify snack foods such as carbonated beverages."  That letter gave Coca-Cola 15 days to reply with its plans for actions, said Forbes.  It seems as if  Coca-Cola simply continued with its deceptive marketing practices.

Coca-Cola maintains that, "Glaceau vitaminwater is clearly and properly labeled and shows the amount of vitamins and calories in the product," said spokeswoman Diana Garza Ciarlante, reported Reuters.  Meanwhile, CSPI said it hopes it can get reimbursement to consumers, "if there is a decent way to get money back to people," reported Reuters.


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