Judge rules Vitaminwater lawsuit may proceed

by Jeff Gelski
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NEW YORK – A federal judge has denied a motion by the Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, to dismiss a lawsuit involving the labeling of Vitaminwater products.

The lawsuit, which was brought by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Washington, claims Coca-Cola makes health claims or certain implied nutrient content claims despite the fact Vitaminwater has been fortified with vitamins and is in violation of the Food and Drug Administration’s fortification policy. Another complaint states the Coca-Cola Co. prominently features the name of some, but not all, of its ingredients in its products name and label.

Judge John Gleeson of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York ruled, “In sum, plaintiffs’ allegations sufficiently state a claim that defendants have violated F.D.A. regulations by making health claims about Vitaminwater even though it does not meet required minimum nutritional thresholds, by using the word ‘healthy’ in implied nutrient content claims even though Vitaminwater’s fortification does not comply with F.D.A. policy, and by using a product name that references only two of Vitaminwater’s ingredients, omitting the fact that there is a key, unnamed ingredient in the product.”

Sugar was a specific unnamed ingredient. According to Nutrition Facts panels, 13 grams of sugar are found in an 8-oz serving of several Vitaminwater varieties, or 26 grams per 16-oz bottle.

The judge ruled, “The fact that the actual sugar content of Vitaminwater was accurately stated in an F.D.A.-mandated label on the product does not eliminate the possibility that reasonable consumers may be misled.”

The Coca-Cola Co. responded, “Vitaminwater is a great-tasting, hydrating beverage with essential vitamins and water – and labels clearly showing ingredients and calorie content. The court’s opinion yesterday was not a decision on the merits, but simply a determination that the case can proceed beyond the initial pleadings stage. We believe plaintiff’s claims are without merit and will ultimately be rejected.”

Defendants are the Coca-Cola Co. and Energy Brands, Inc., Whitestone, N.Y., a subsidiary of Coca-Cola doing business as Glaceau. The lawsuit is a hybrid of five similar cases previously filed in California, New York and New Jersey.

According to the lawsuit, F.D.A. regulations do not permit a health claim, or any nutrient content claim involving the word “healthy,” (or any derivative) to be made about a food unless it contains, in the quantity customarily consumed at one setting, at least 10% of the recommended daily reference quantity of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, protein or fiber.

According to Nutrition Facts panels, several Vitaminwater varieties are not a significant source of calcium or iron.
The lawsuit highlights that the Rescue variety of Vitaminwater contains the statement “specially formulated to support optimal metabolic function with antioxidants that may reduce the risk of chronic diseases and vitamins necessary for the generation and utilization of energy from food.”

The Defense variety and B-Relaxed variety of Vitaminwater both contain healthy in two implied nutrient content claims, according to the lawsuit.

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