Coke Faces Deception Charges On Vitaminwater

Vitamin Water-Rescue The Center for Science in the Public Interest has served Coca-Cola with a class-action lawsuit, charging the Atlanta beverage giant with deceptive and unsubstantiated claims on its Vitaminwater beverages.

The organization says Coke's labeling for the drinks, which tout the drinks for immune "defense" and "rescue," and for generating "energy" and "endurance," is inherently false. The group also says Coke's claims that the various Vitaminwater SKUs reduce the risk of chronic disease, eye disease, and promote healthy joints, and support optimal immune function are deceptive.

The center's litigation group is co-counsel on the suit filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on behalf of San Francisco resident James Koh. The other law firms involved in the case are Reese Richman LLP and Whatley Drake & Kallas, LLC.



"The notion that you can take a penny's worth of vitamins and mix them with a sugary drink and convert that to something healthful is bogus," said David Schardt, senior nutritionist at CSPI. "The idea that you can improve immunity by drinking a vitamin water beverage is nonsense. The idea that B vitamins provide extra energy is bunk. It's like saying that since cars run on gasoline, if you give them more gasoline they will go faster."

Schardt argues that the company has gone beyond advertising the benefits of vitamin enhancement to claims of disease prevention, "which is a special category of health claim that can only be made with prior approval of the FDA."

A spokesperson for Coca-Cola called the charges ludicrous, contending that Vitaminwater labels delineate the contents of the beverage responsibly. "Glaceau Vitaminwater is clearly and properly labeled and shows the amount of vitamins and calories in the product," said the spokesperson.

"Consumers today are savvy, educated and are looking for more from their beverages than just hydration," said the spokesperson. "Many people know that they are not receiving adequate nutrients from their diets, so they have turned to products like Glaceau Vitaminwater in order to help supplement what they are not receiving from the foods they eat. This is not about protecting the public interest. This is about increasing the readership of CSPI's increasingly irrelevant newsletter."

Said Stephen Gardner, CSPI's director of litigation: "This is an extremely strong case; Coke is tricking consumers into thinking sugar water is a vitamin drink. The problem is twofold. Coke markets Vitaminwater as a healthy drink and it's quite the opposite--that's fraud and it violates consumer protection laws in any state. Second, a great example of Coke's deliberate fraud is--they are violating clear FDA regulations on how they should provide nutrition information. They ignore regulations that require them to show bad news as well as good."

He says that Coke is essentially making unsubstantiated and illegal claims that Vitaminwater is a drug. "It truly shocks the conscience that a company like Coke would try to keep customers in the soft drink market by selling a soft drink and telling them it's a vitamin," he says.

Schardt concedes that Coke is not alone, but says that "Coke has been the leader in the race to the bottom of functional food. In this arena, they are the Michael Phelps," he says. "The more likely direct effect of this lawsuit and the reason we sue the market leader is that quite often the signal gets to other companies."

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