Coca-Cola's Pomegranate Conflict

Supreme Court clears way for Pom to pursue labeling lawsuit

minute maid Pomegranate Blueberry

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously allowed a false advertising lawsuit against a Coca-Cola juice blend to move forward, saying the company’s practices “allegedly mislead and trick consumers, all to the injury of competitors," according to a New York Times report.

The blend, sold under Coca-Cola’s Minute Maid brand, is made almost entirely from apple and grape juice, but it is labeled Pomegranate Blueberry, followed in smaller type by the phrase “Flavored Blend of 5 Juices.”

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the court, said the blend contained a “minuscule amount of pomegranate and blueberry juices.” More specifically, he said, it is made up of “99.4% apple and grape juices, 0.3% pomegranate juice, 0.2% blueberry juice and 0.1% raspberry juice,” according to the report.

Pom Wonderful, which sells pomegranate juice, sued Coca-Cola for false advertising. Lower courts dismissed the lawsuit, saying Congress had entrusted the regulation of juice labels to the Food and Drug Administration.

The legal question in the case was how to harmonize two federal laws, one allowing private lawsuits over misleading advertising and the other authorizing federal regulation of food labels.

The ruling means that food labels will come under increasing scrutiny, and it’s possible many won’t fare well, according to a Bloomberg report. “The decision will now make claims on packaging and labeling additional fodder for competitive challenges, which will likely lead to an increase in brand wars,” Linda Goldstein, a lawyer at Manatt Phelps & Phillips, told Bloomberg. Coke’s lawyer had claimed that it would be a “logistical nightmare” for food companies to have to change labels in response to every lawsuit.

Coca-Cola said in a statement: “We intend to defend against Pom’s claims that our labeling is misleading, and the evidence at trial will show that our product was not the cause of Pom’s poor sales.”