Suddenly Vitaminwater doesn’t look so healthy after all. At least not to the Center for Science in Public Interest and participants in the class action lawsuit against the Coca-Cola Company. The suit states that the Coke-owned brand is guilty of deceptive and unsubstantiated claims.
Glacéau Vitaminwater has long been marketed as a healthy alternative to other beverages thanks to added vitamins and minerals. CSPI has taken issue with many claims associated with its drinks like “rescue,” “energy” and “endurance.”
“We had been looking at Vitaminwater for a number of months. Our concern is flavored sugar water shouldn’t be marketed as a health drink,” CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner told Brandweek. “We were then contacted by two small law firms who were already working together. Their client had the same complaint we did so we joined forces.”
The brand's marketing claims the products can, among other things, reduce the risk of chronic disease and promote healthy joints. The health advocacy group feels the drink is more likely to do harm than good, considering the 33 grams of sugar. The marketing of Vitaminwater “is truly an irresponsible act by Coca-Cola. They know it is flavored snake oil,” said Gardner.
He pointed to the brand’s double labeling practices as “them just thumbing their nose at the Federal Drug Administration and the consumer.” Specifically, the servings of calories and other “bad stuff” are shown per every eight ounces while the vitamins and minerals are labeled per bottle.
A Coke rep said: "This is a ridiculous and ludicrous lawsuit. Glacéau Vitaminwater is a great tasting, hydrating beverage with essential vitamins and water, with labels showing calorie content. Consumers can readily see the nutrition facts panels on every bottle of Glacéau Vitaminwater, which show what's in our product and what's not...There is no surprise that one week before the inauguration of the U.S. president, with the flurry of activity in Washington, D.C., that CSPI has chosen today to try to bring attention to themselves." Coke purchased Vitaminwater for $4.1 billion in 2007.
This is not Coke’s first run in with CSPI. In 2007, the group sued the company over claims that its Enviga brand burns more calories than it consumes resulting in weight loss. The suit is still pending.
Coke has already come under fire from the FDA. Last month it sent Coke CEO Muhtar Kent a letter stating that Diet Coke Plus' nutrient claims are in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
Regardless of the outcome of the CSPI/Vitaminwater suit, Beverage Business Insights editor Gerry Khermouch said, this "represents a further public undressing of Vitaminwater that began when Pepsi trumpeting its relatively high sugar content to consumers in its marketing of Propel."
It also means that Vitaminwater's development of a 10-calorie extension to launch this spring is all the more timely, said Khermouch. "Keep in mind also that Glacéau has had several less-sweet items in its arsenal should consumers want them, including the less-sweet Fruitwater, the completely unsweetened Essencewater and of course the still highly successful electrolyte-enhanced Smartwater."
This story updates an item posted earlier today with the addition of Coke's official statement.