WASHINGTON—The Center for Science in the Public Interest will not appeal a federal appeals court decision blocking a New Jersey woman’s lawsuit over false weight-loss claims made by Coca-Cola for Enviga. Enviga is a line of artificially sweetened green tea-based soft drinks whose labeling and advertising claims that the drink “burns calories.” Launched with considerable fanfare in 2006, Enviga has since faded into obscurity.
Under a February 2009 settlement agreement reached with 27 states and the District of Columbia, Coca-Cola agreed to pay $650,000 and to stop making overt weight-loss claims for Enviga. Coke (and partner Nestlé) agreed to add language to labels and marketing materials stating that the product will not promote weight loss without diet and exercise. Three months later, the trade publication New Nutrition Business reported an Enviga “sales collapse.” The Court of Appeals decision this week hinged on whether the plaintiff had documented her weight loss or gain, and not on the merits of CSPI’s allegations about Enviga’s deceptive claims.
“We believe that the Court of Appeals erred in not letting a consumer pursue her claim about the demonstrably false advertising and labeling on these expensive and fraudulent drinks,” said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner. “But since the attorneys general cracked down and have since won modest labeling concessions, we won’t appeal. Consumers seem to have gotten the message that Coca-Cola does not have the science to back up its laughable ‘calorie burning’ claims for Enviga.”
The taste of Enviga might also be partly to blame for its decline. Tasters at Bevnet.com, an online site that covers the beverage industry, were generally unkind. The Wild Berry flavored Enviga “tastes pretty artificial and saccharine.” The Peach flavor, now discontinued, “is a bit too acidic, and allows some of the chemical sweeteners to intervene, creating something of an unpleasantly fuzzy mouthfeel.” The Green Tea flavor fared better but Bevnet wondered whether its “strong, tangy flavor” is “going to be too much” for dieting consumers.
CSPI’s lawsuit sought an injunction barring Enviga from making deceptive claims.
“It’s ironic that Coke, a company that has been a major promoter of weight gain, is now pretending that it is coming to the rescue of overweight people,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson when the lawsuit was filed in 2006. “They should have called this drink ‘Fleece,’ since that’s what they’re trying to do to consumers. Plain old tap water has zero calories, five calories fewer than Enviga, but unlike Enviga, tap water doesn’t cost 15 bucks a gallon.”
Besides maintaining the Enviga doesn’t contain “negative calories,” CSPI is concerned about the caffeine levels in Enviga. The marketing materials urged consumers to drink three cans a day to achieve a maximum calorie burning effect. At 100 milligrams per can, three cans of Enviga would have the caffeine of nine cans of Coke. And that is at the upper limit of what experts consider safe for pregnant women or women who may become pregnant.
“If you want to lose weight, drink less Coke, not more Enviga,” said Jacobson.
Enviga aside, CSPI is moving full-speed ahead with a class action lawsuit against Coca-Cola over deceptive claims associated with its Vitaminwater line of drinks. The company makes a wide range of dramatic—and according to CSPI, false—claims, including that its drinks variously reduce the risk of chronic disease, reduce the risk of eye disease, promote healthy joints, and support optimal immune function. Vitaminwater has 33 grams of sugar per bottle, but no juice from any of the fruits mentioned on the labels of its several flavors. The names of the drinks, along with other statements on the label, “have the potential to reinforce a consumer’s mistaken belief that the product is comprised of only vitamins and water,” wrote U.S. District Court Judge John Gleeson, denying Coca-Cola’s motion to dismiss.