News highlights, market trends, and original data analysis related to the U.S. retail food & beverage industry … by Jay Nargundkar
Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on a potentially highly consequential legal dispute between Pom Wonderful — makers of the eponymous Pom juice — and the Coca-Cola Company. Pom is suing Coca-Cola for misleading labeling on a juice made by the latter’s Minute Maid division. Minute Maid sells a “Pomegranate Blueberry” juice, with smaller type on the packaging clarifying it is a “flavored blend of 5 juices”.
It turns out that may be a charitable overstatement — by weight, the Minute Maid juice contains only 0.3% pomegranate juice and 0.2% blueberry juice. Those trace amounts, the NY Times notes, are equivalent to “a teaspoon in a half gallon”. The bulk of the juice blend is mostly (far cheaper) apple and grape juices.
Coca Cola argues the law is on its side — at present, FDA regulations allow the product to be named for its flavor, not for its actual contents. The case has reached the Supreme Court on appeal, as lower courts have sided with Coke, and the Justice Department is aligned with Coke. A government lawyer testified before the court:
“By allowing manufacturers to choose to name their juice product based on the juice that flavors the product as opposed to based on the juice that is predominant by volume, consumers will come to understand that when a juice says pomegranate- and blueberry-flavored, what it means is that the juice is present as a flavor.”
However, it’s worth noting that Pom prevailed in similar suits over the past few years against competitors Ocean Spray, Welch’s, and Pepsico’s Tropicana. A Pom win here could force food and beverage manufacturers to rethink their own labeling claims. That itself may be contingent on whether consumers feel strongly about the issue; for now the debate is mostly contained within the industry.