Food labeling suits have seen a considerable increase over the last few years, with a number of large food manufacturers heading to court to fight accusations that their products carry labels that falsely extoll their benefits. PopChips, Trader Joe’s and Tom’s of Maine toothpaste are among the companies that have paid millions to settle suits on misleading labels that classified their products as “all-natural.” Now POM Wonderful LLC will be the next company to define law around misleading labels, and it will do so from both the plaintiff and defense sides of the aisle.
The juice maker will head to the United States Supreme Court on April 21 where it will continue its battle with Coca-Cola over alleged mislabeling of its juice products. POM argues that Coke’s Minute Maid Pomegranate Blueberry juice labeling misled customers because the blend contains only 0.3 percent pomegranate and 0.2 percent blueberry juice. POM alleges that Coke’s misleading representation of the product is a violation of the Lanham Act.
The outcome of the case could redefine how and when Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation compliance prevents others from suiting.
According to Attorney Thomas Williams, Ulmer & Berne LLP “The Ninth Circuit held that the claims were barred because Coca-Cola’s product labeling complied with FDA regulations despite the relatively low content of those fruits in the product. The court held that POM’s false advertising challenge would create a potential conflict with the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act because the FDA had comprehensively regulated juice labeling under the Act, and the Coca-Cola label was in compliance.
In addition to the case it will be championing in Supreme Court, POM will also defend its own labeling case this against the Federal Trade Commission (FTC.) The FTC took issue with POM’s claims that it could help ward off prostate cancer or let customers “cheat death.” The agency then barred POM’s use of the tag line.
POM argues that the FTC was "taking the unprecedented step of holding food companies like POM Wonderful to the same standards as pharmaceuticals." This case hopes to reinstate the use of these slogans, which POM argues should be protected under the first amendment.
Decisions on both cases should come later this year.
For more on lawsuits around food and beverage check out these stories: