Advocacy Group Sues Coca-Cola Over VitaminWater
NEW YORK - A nutrition advocacy group on Thursday sued the Coca-Cola
Co., the biggest beverage maker in the world, over what it calls "deceptive"
health claims about VitaminWater.
The Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest accuses
Coke of selling what it says is basically sugar water by claiming
it has vitamins that boost immunity and reduce the risk of disease.
The group said the health benefit claims that Coca-Cola makes about
its VitaminWater are "nonsense." It filed a class action lawsuit in
U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California.
"Any nonsensical claim you like, you can find in their line of VitaminWater,"
said the group's senior nutritionist, David Schardt.
VitaminWater flavors are marketed with words such as defense, rescue,
energy and endurance. The drinks' top three ingredients are water,
cane sugar and crystalline fructose, a form of sugar, according to
the bottle labels. The 20-ounce bottle has roughly 33 grams of sugar,
compared with about 39 grams in a typical 12-ounce soft drink.
Coca-Cola bought Glaceau's VitaminWater for $4.1 billion in June 2007.
It was considered a coup at a time when consumers were buying less
and less soda.
Consumers worried about their health had been driving down sales for
soft drinks and switching to bottled water and other drinks like VitaminWater.
The lawsuit says Coca-Cola "profited enormously" from sales driven
by consumers' health concerns.
"It truly shocks the conscience that a company like Coke would try
to keep customers by selling them a soft drink and telling them it's
a vitamin," said Stephen Gardner, director of litigation for the group.
The lead plaintiff in the case, San Francisco resident James Koh,
said in a statement, "I was attracted by the prospect of getting extra
vitamins. But I had no idea that I was actually getting almost a Coke's
worth of sugar and calories. There's no way I would have spent money
on that, had I known."
"This is a ridiculous and ludicrous lawsuit," Coca-Cola spokeswoman
Diana Garza Ciarlante said. She called the lawsuit a "cheap, opportunistic
"Not only that, 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," she said.
This is the second lawsuit the Center for Science in the Public Interest
has filed against Coca-Cola. In 2007, the nonprofit sued Coke and
Nestlé over claims that their artificially sweetened green-tea drink
Enviga would help you lose weight.
Also, it sued MillerCoors last fall to stop the brewer from selling
Sparks, an alcoholic energy drink. Last month the company agreed to
remove some stimulants from its formula.
Shares of Coke rose 55 cents to $43.17 in late afternoon trading.
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