Pom Wonderful LLC has failed to persuade a California jury that Coca-Cola engaged in false advertising.
On Monday, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California ruled in favor of Coca-Cola and awarded no damages to Pom, The Wall Street Journal reported.
In 2008, Pom filed a complaint against Coca-Cola under the Lanham Act, a federal trademark statute through which rivals can sue each other for false advertising. Pom accused Coca-Cola of duping consumers into believing a Minute Maid beverage contained mostly blueberry and pomegranate juices when in fact it contained very little of those substances.
Coca-Cola had persuaded a trial court and a federal appeals court (9th Circuit) that its compliance with FDA labeling regulations precluded the lawsuit.
But the U.S. Supreme Court in 2014 overturned the appellate ruling.
“Nothing in the text, history, or structure of the FDCA [Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act] or the Lanham Act shows the congressional purpose or design to forbid these suits. Quite to the contrary, the FDCA and the Lanham Act complement each other in the federal regulation of misleading food and beverage labels," Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the opinion. “Competitors, in their own interest, may bring Lanham Act claims like POM’s that challenge food and beverage labels that are regulated by the FDCA."
Coca-Cola’s drink consisted nearly entirely of apple and grape juices (99.4 percent), Kennedy pointed out, containing a mere 0.3 percent pomegranate juice and 0.2 percent blueberry juice.
Pom sought around US$78 million in damages from Coca-Cola, but the jury ruled Pom hadn’t proved Coca-Cola’s labeling was misleading, The Journal reported.
“We are pleased and gratified by the jury’s verdict," Coca-Cola spokesman Josh Gold said in an emailed statement. “As we have said all along, our flavored juice blend was clearly and properly labeled in compliance with all FDA requirements."
Missy Miller, a spokeswoman for Pom, said the company was disappointed with the jury's ruling.
"We believe that Coca-Cola intentionally confused consumers with its so-called Minute Maid Pomegranate juice product, which had a mere 0.3% pomegranate juice; the rest was ordinary apple and grape juice," she said in an emailed statement. "Food and beverage manufacturers have a responsibility to provide honest and accurate information about what’s in their products, and consumers have a right not to be deceived by products which aren’t as they appear."