Truth In Advertising (TINA.org), a US-based nonprofit organisation, is calling on consumers to contest Coca-Cola’s $US1.2 million preliminary settlement over allegations of deceptive labelling and advertising of its Glacéau Vitaminwater drinks.
If the court accepts the objection, consumers who felt they were misled by Vitaminwater’s marketing claims could potentially be awarded cash compensation — and Coca-Cola might have to all-together stop using words linking the drink to health benefits.
The consumer group seems to be following in the footsteps of a recent Red Bull settlement, where the energy drink company agreed to pay $US10 to customers disappointed the product did not actually give them “wings,” as its tagline suggests.
The class-action lawsuit that TINA.org is objecting followed a separate lawsuit brought against Coca-Cola in 2009 by The Center of Public Interest (CPSI). The CPSI took issue with Vitaminwater’s claims that the drink “could promote healthy joints, support optimal immune function, and reduce the risk of eye disease” when in fact the product contains a hefty dose of sugar (up to 31 grams in some instances) that when consumed in large amounts could lead to a host of other health problems.
Coca-Cola argued in its defence that no reasonable person could be misled into thinking Vitaminwater was a “healthy drink,” despite label names such as “Defence,” “Revive,” and “Endurance,” for its different flavours of water. Last year, a federal judge rejected this defence, but the outcome of the suit is still pending.
Meanwhile, a number of private class-action attorneys filed suits against Coca-Cola in multiple US states including Florida, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio and the US Virgin Islands. The suits made similar allegations to the CPSI one and suggested solutions, such as forcing the company to change the name of the product and preventing Coca-Cola from using words in advertising that might suggest the drink is healthy.
The suits were consolidated into one case in Ohio, which reached a $US1.2 million agreement with Coca-Cola in July to settle the claims that the drink is marketed in a misleading fashion. Coca-Cola also agreed to some limited concessions such as listing the amount of calories in the product on the front label of the drink and displaying bold text stating “see nutrition facts for more detail” next to claims such as “an excellent source of nutrition.”
But TINA.org argues this settlement will do nothing for the consumers misled into thinking the product was unhealthy and the amount is only enough to pay off the lawyers who brought the suits to court in order “to make the whole case vanish,” the group said in an emailed statement.
It also says many of the concessions are irrelevant because Vitaminwater does not use claims such as “an excellent source of nutrition” in its advertising or labelling any more and it already displays the amount of calories on the front of bottles.
For that reason, TINA.org requested this week that the court allow it to object the settlement as an amicus curiae in order to gain more advertising concessions from Coca-Cola and a potential reimbursement to customers. The motion filed with the court does not list exactly what additional concessions TINA.org would like Coca-Cola to make but does say the current settlement “does not eradicate the deception or benefit class members” and that the proposed monetary settlement is “unfair.”
The consumer group is calling on people who have purchased Vitaminwater in the four US states or the Virgin Islands where the class actions were brought to file their own objections on a dedicated settlement website by November 3.
A final hearing to determine the outcome of the case will take place in December.
Business Insider has requested a comment from Coca-Cola. This article will be updated when it has been received.