News Feature | May 7, 2014

U.S. Supreme Court Weighs In On Coca-Cola Labeling Dispute

By Karla Paris

Supreme Court On Coca-Cola Labeling Dispute

Two major soda manufacturers are duking it out under provisions of the Lanham Act. This legislation allows a business allegedly injured by a competitor's false or misleading advertising of its products to bring a civil lawsuit

In a dispute that has been brewing since 2008, the Supreme Court began hearing arguments on April 21 in an important false-advertising case between Coca-Cola and the juice company POM Wonderful.  The discussion addresses whether a company can sue a competitor for having mislabeled products even if the FDA has approved the labeling.

Coca-Cola’s stance is that it fully complied with the FDA and its requirement that its Minute Maid-brand Pomegranate Blueberry drink contained a “flavored blend of five juices.”  POM Wonderful’s argument is that consumers would be surprised to learn that the beverage is just 0.3 percent pomegranate juice and 0.2 percent blueberry juice even though the drink is called “Pomegranate Blueberry.”

Pom has called out just about everything on the juice label, including the graphic design of the label showing an image of fruit, the name of the product, even the type-face on the label putting "pomegranate blueberry" in larger type.

Under the Lanham Act, Coca-Cola is not the only beverage manufacturer to be sued by POM. The company also sued Ocean Spray, Welch’s, and Tropicana in similar cases. But only Coca-Cola prevailed against Pom, a decision that was affirmed by the Ninth Circuit.

Sam Lewis, Associate Editor of Food Online, recently discussed how common false food labeling and misleading statements are in the market today. According to the Food Fraud Database (FFD), food fraud is the “deliberate substitution, addition, tampering, or misrepresentation of food, food ingredients, or food packaging, or false or misleading statements made about a product for economic gain.”

While this case is still far from being resolved by the Supreme Court, the discussion of labeling and its accuracy is something manufacturers must closely monitor when bringing its products to market. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Pom and its right to sue, it could spur an onslaught of consumer suits over labeling and advertising claims. A decision is expected in June.