Court rules false advertising of pomegranate juice

by Jeff Gelski
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LOS ANGELES – Purely Juice, Inc. was found liable for false advertising of its "100% pomegranate" product for more than eight months in 2007 in a July 17, 2008, ruling by the U.S. District Court, Central District of California. The court awarded the plaintiff, Los Angeles-based POM Wonderful, $1,192,905 in lost incremental profits for the period of Purely Juice’s false advertising. The court also calculated Purely Juice’s profits at $305,137 during the period.

The court ruled, "When faced with what appear to be two identical products, each purporting to be 100% pomegranate juice, with one (i.e., Purely Juice) priced substantially less than the other (i.e., POM Wonderful), a consumer may reach the incorrect conclusion that plaintiff is overcharging its customers."

Matt Tupper, president of POM Wonderful, said, "We hope this ruling serves as a wake-up call for all pomegranate juice producers to ensure their labels communicate clearly the origin and actual ingredients of their products.

"The reality is that there are not enough pomegranates grown throughout the world to satisfy the rising consumer demand for pomegranate juice. Many juice suppliers, particularly those exporting from foreign countries, make up for this deficit by adding sugar, colorants and cheap filler juices to what they market as 100% pomegranate juice."

Purely Juice, in a July 23 response to the court ruling, said the company never intended to mislead consumers.

"The product in question was from a very short production period in which there were indicators that had not been previously observed," Purely Juice said and added, "There have been no reports of any product being mislabeled beyond what was mentioned in this lawsuit, which was over one year ago."

The court found at least from Jan. 7, 2007, through Aug. 30, 2007, Purely Juice was selling a product that contained a false or misleading representation of fact concerning the nature, characteristics and qualities of its product.

Purely Juice in April 2006 originally began marketing and selling a beverage labeled as 100% pomegranate juice without any added sugar. POM Wonderful then retained Food Research, Inc., Costa Mesa, Calif., to commission authenticity testing of Purely Juice’s product.

Food Research sent samples of the beverage to seven independent laboratories. They found added sugars, added fruit juices and diluted active components such as polyphenols, antioxidant activity and potassium. Krueger Food Laboratories, Billerica, Mass., concluded the Purely Juice beverage "consists primarily of cane sugar and corn sweetener, and contains little pomegranate solids."

Testing at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, found the beverage contained about 60% less polyphenols than expected in 100% pomegranate juice. Polyphenols are antioxidants associated with health benefits.

On Feb. 12, 2007, Purely Juice commissioned Silliker Laboratories, Homewood, Ill., to conduct tests on its beverage. On March 23, 2007, Purely Juice received results from Silliker reporting high levels of sucrose and corn syrup in the product. Purely Juice on April 3, 2007, instructed its distribution center to hold products with sell-by dates of June 2007, but the company did not recall any product already shipped to retailers.

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