Coca-Cola dodges federal false advertising claim on its so-called "pomegranate" juice

Friday, May 18, 2012 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: Minute Maid, pomegranate juice, false advertising

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(NaturalNews) They say close only counts in a game of horseshoes or when throwing a hand grenade. Obviously, close is good enough when it comes to food ingredients as well.

Beverage giant Coca-Cola was recently able to dodge a federal claim of false advertising on one of its "pomegranate" drinks - but just barely. Minute Maid, which is a subsidiary of Coca-Cola, can continue to label one of its drinks "Pomegranate Blueberry," even though it is almost entirely made of apple and grape juices, and contains a paltry 0.3 percent pomegranate juice and 0.2 percent blueberry juice.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco dismissed a suit filed by Pom Wonderful, maker of a variety of pomegranate juice drinks that accused Coca-Cola of phony labeling and advertising.

The court said federal law leaves those kinds of decisions up to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While the agency has yet to rule on Minute Maid's label, the court panel, in a unanimous decision, said federal regulations say a company can name a drink after a "flavoring" that it contains, even if it's not the primary ingredient.

"As best we can tell, FDA regulations authorize the name (Minute Maid) has chosen," said Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain, in the ruling. "For a court to act when the FDA has not - despite regulating extensively in this area - would risk undercutting the FDA's expert judgments and authority."

Where's the pomegranate?

Pom Wonderful alleged in its initial lawsuit in 2008 that Coca-Cola was misleading consumers with its labeling, which contained a picture of pomegranates and blueberries. In its suit, Pom Wonderful claimed the Minute Maid labeling violated the false advertising provision of the Lanham Act, as well as California's Unfair Competition Law (UCL) and False Advertising Law (FAL). The court didn't agree.

"The naming component of Pom's claim is barred because, as best we can tell, FDA regulations authorize the name Coca-Cola has chosen," O'Scannlain wrote. "The FDA has concluded that a manufacturer may name a beverage using the name of a flavoring juice that is not predominant by volume."

The product in question was introduced by Minute Maid in 2007. It bears a label that says, "Help Nourish Your Brain" above a drawing of fruits. Besides "Pomegranate Blueberry" the label also says "Flavored Blend of 5 Juices" in smaller letters.

But for all intents and purposes, there is hardly anything of substance in the drink if you're buying it for the labeling. Each bottle contains 99.4 percent apple and grape juices, which the court noted were cheaper than pomegranate and blueberry juices. Not that cost is any motivator here, of course.

Not upset at all by the company's sleight of hand labeling, Coca-Cola executives pooh-poohed the suit.

"We are confident that the (judge) will dismiss what little is left of Pom's baseless claims," the company said in a statement.

Pomegranate's good for you - when you can find it

In tossing Pom's claims, the appeals panel dismissed a lower court's ruling saying the juice maker was entitled to compensation under California law.

"The district court interpreted the 'lost money or property' language to require a plaintiff to show that it is entitled to restitution from the defendant -- even if the plaintiff seeks only injunctive relief," O'Scannlain wrote. "That was error. The California Supreme Court has now made clear that standing under section 17204 (the UCL standing provision) does not depend on eligibility for restitution."

Okay, so maybe you're asking by now why this story matters to you.

Well, pomegranate is quickly gaining favor in health circles for its nutritional value as an antioxidant-rich fruit. Besides tasting great, research shows pomegranate juice can lower harmful LDL cholesterol levels, improve blood flow to the heart for cardiac patients, reduce thickening of arteries that supply blood to the brain, and lower blood pressure.

Only, don't buy Minute Maid's Pomegranate Blueberry juice if your goal is to reduce your health risk. For the record, there isn't much pomegranate in it.

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