Vitaminwater has settled a class action lawsuit over claims that its labeling and marketing were deceptive and misleading.
The class action includes Vitaminwater consumers in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, and the Virgin Islands who purchased the product since 2003. As of Tuesday, the Washington Examiner reported that the settlement was still pending approval in a New York federal court. If approved, the settlement will prohibit Vitaminwater from making claims like "vitamins + water -- what's in your hand."
What was the case against Vitaminwater, and how will its marketing be changed by this settlement?
Deceptive Marketing Alleged
Vitaminwater is actually a Coke subsidiary, doing business under the name Glaceau Vitaminwater. But opponents of Vitaminwater's marketing practices noted that there isn't much difference between a bottle of Coke and a bottle of Vitaminwater -- except maybe carbonation. As early as 2010, plaintiffs had urged the New York federal court that Vitaminwater should be barred from making claims suggesting it is a health drink, since it is essentially just a sugar drink with vitamins added.
The FDA's "jellybean rule" has prohibited junk-food manufacturers from making health claims simply by adding vitamins to an otherwise unhealthy food, and early rulings suggested that this would prevent Vitaminwater from making claims that its product was "healthy." As you may recall, Naked Juice ran into a similar problem over its "all natural" claims, despite the fact that its juices contained several chemical-sounding ingredients.
Naked Juice ended up settling for $9 million over its misleading claims, but what will happen with Vitaminwater?
It's unclear from the initial reports that Vitaminwater's settlement will include any payout to class members, but it does propose a great deal of injunctive relief. According to the Examiner, if the settlement is approved, Vitaminwater will have to:
- Cease making claims that suggest Vitaminwater is made solely of vitamins and water, or that the drink fulfills health needs (e.g., "vitamins + water -- all you need");
- State the caloric content of the drink on the principal display panel; and
- Pay plaintiffs' attorneys fees (up to $1.2 million).
If Vitaminwater abides by the proposed settlement's terms, it may lead to consumers being slightly more informed about the actual health benefits of Vitaminwater.
- Plaintiffs may find Vitaminwater settlement hard to swallow (Society for Science-Based Medicinel)
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