Score one for the Natural Products industry
Last week’s Supreme Court ruling allowing POM Wonderful to sue beverage giant Coca-Cola is certainly a score for the natural products marketplace. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said during oral arguments in April that he found the labeling of a Coca-Cola product called “Pomegranate Blueberry Flavored Blend of Five Juices” misleading, and last Thursday he wrote for a unanimous Supreme Court that the company can be sued for it.
For those who are not familiar with how the case has progressed so far, here is a quick summary: In 2008, POM Wonderful took Coca-Cola to court over its Minute Maid brand “Pomegranate Blueberry” flavored juice. POM sued Coke under the Lanham Act. According to the lawsuit, Coca-Cola engaged in false advertising by portraying a product consisting of 0.3% pomegranate juice, 0.2% blueberry juice, 0.1% raspberry juice, and 99% apple and grape juice as being primarily pomegranate and blueberry juice. It was POM’s contention that Coca-Cola wanted to cash in on the market largely created by POM Wonderful. After lower courts decided that the FDA’s approval of the label under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) preempted any Lanham Act action by POM, POM appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.
What do these recent developments mean for food companies? I believe that they will need to be much more concerned with claims they make on labels. This Supreme Court ruling extends protection to companies that create healthy brands based on whole foods. It discourages Big Food from simply adding a small amount of an ingredient to their product—then claiming that the product consists of that particular ingredient.
But I am a little bitter toward our federal agencies. POM Wonderful, a private company, took on the burden for the cost of the lawsuit. They continued to fight using their own resources. Neither the FDA (responsible for handling food labeling issues) nor the FTC (responsible for handling false advertising disputes) raised a finger to help POM Wonderful. Thank goodness we have three branches of government so that the Supreme Court could step in when the federal agencies refused to do so.
I am a big fan of the POM Wonderful juices, and I wish them the best of luck in their legal battle with Coca-Cola. Why not show your support and buy some POM Wonderful juice to help fund their fight?