A win for Pom is a win for consumers

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By Consumers Union on Friday, June 13th, 2014

pomegranate-drink-label-3Consumers could be misled and tricked by the labeling on Minute Maid’s Pomegranate Blueberry flavored juice blend, said the Supreme Court yesterday in a unanimous decision that will allow the POM Wonderful Juice company to proceed with a lawsuit against Coca-Cola, maker of Minute Maid drinks.

The point of contention is the label on the Minute Maid product, which announces “100% Fruit Juice Blend” above the prominently featured words ‘Pomegranate Blueberry’.  Beneath that, in much smaller lettering, it states “Flavored blend of 5 juices” in front of a picture of pomegranates, blueberries, raspberries, grapes and an apple.

POM’s lawsuit states that the Minute Maid product is misleading consumers and hurting POM sales through its marketing as a blueberry pomegranate juice blend, when in reality it contains only 0.3% pomegranate juice and 0.2% blueberry juice.  As for the other 99.5% of the product?  It’s 99.4% apple and grape juice and 0.1% raspberry juice.

POM Wonderful juices are 85% pomegranate juice and 15% blueberry juice – and cost about five times as much as the more cheaply made Minute Maid product.

The Supreme Court’s verdict went against the decision of two lower courts, which previously ruled against the POM lawsuit based on the premise that the Minute Maid labels comply with FDA requirements, and that the final call on what’s considered to be ‘misleading’ rests with the agency.  This final decision instead will now permit the POM lawsuit to proceed under a law called the Lanham Act, which allows companies to file lawsuits due to unfair competition through misleading labeling or advertising.

The bottom line?  Just because a label complies with FDA regulations it can still mislead consumers and should be held accountable, says the Supreme Court.   But while the intent of their decision was made to protect the interests of POM, consumers may benefit in the end if product labeling is held to a higher, more truthful standard.  And considering that there’s no shortage of misleading labeling on the market right now, this could be a very good thing.

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