A door may have just opened for litigation against deceptive labeling of food products. On Thursday the Supreme Court sided with juice company Pom Wonderful in their case against the Coca-Cola Co.
In an 8-0 ruling, the Supreme Court decided Pom can move forward with its lawsuit against Coca-Cola. The suit alleges the label on a “Pomegranate Blueberry” beverage in Coke’s Minute Maid line of juices is misleading because the beverage is 99 percent apple and grape juice.
Thursday’s decision by the Supreme Court reverses earlier decisions made by lower courts in favor of Coke. Because the beverage label is in accordance with the law and meets Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules, lower courts had ruled in favor of Coke. The new ruling states since the beverage in question contains only 0.3 percent pomegranate juice and 0.2 percent blueberry juice, its label could mislead customers even though it technically follows FDA rules.
Pom’s core argument against Coke is that their allegedly misleading label has caused potential customers to purchase the Minute Maid beverage instead of Pom’s products. Under the Lanham Act, Pom can sue Coke for unfair competition based on the misleading claims on the Coke products’ label.
Pom’s lawsuit against Coke was filed in 2008 after Minute Maid’s “Pomegranate Blueberry Flavored Blend of 5 Juices” was released on the market and Pom’s sales dropped. The words “Pomegranate Blueberry” are featured more prominently on the label than the rest of the phrase.
Those in the food and beverage industry are worried that a ruling in favor of Pom will lead to more uncertainty about the requirements of food labels and many new lawsuits. In a statement, Pom’s parent company said the Supreme Court’s decision, “will translate into higher assurance for consumers that the labels on beverage and food are accurate.”
Coke also released a statement about the ruling which said it is, “committed to clear labeling that fully complies with FDA regulations.”
Of course, it’s important to remember Pom has faced its own lawsuits for claims the company made about the health benefits of their juice. No matter how the lawsuit ultimately turns out, it’s nice to see companies being put under the microscope for making dubious claims on their labels.