Federal Judge: POM Utilized Deceptive Advertising

In a decision that may have far reaching implications for how beverage companies advertise and market their products, a federal judge has ordered the makers of POM Wonderful to cease making all claims about the health benefits and performance of its pomegranate drinks and products, according to the Associated Press.

The ruling will likely resolve a 2010 complaint filed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that accused POM and its parent company Roll International Corp of deceptive advertising. POM had long utilized health claims in its advertising that promoted pomegranate juice as a way to treat or prevent a range of ailments, including heart disease and prostate cancer.

The case featured several expert witnesses who testified that scientific evidence does not support the claims that POM made in its advertising. The claims were a key point of marketing for the company and viewed as a way to justify the premium price of POM beverages.

While Chief Administrative Law Judge Michael Chappell sided with federal regulators on the main points of the complaint, he rejected one part of the FTC’s argument:  that POM would need to provide evidence from rigorous medical trials, a standard required of pharmaceutical companies, to make any future health claims. Chappell said the company would need only to provide “competent reliable scientific evidence.”

In a statement published yesterday, POM Wonderful claimed victory in the judge’s decision. The company praised the ruling as one that affirms the company’s “right to share valuable, scientifically-validated information about the health benefits of its safe food with consumers.”

“We consider this not only to be a huge win for us, but for the natural food products industry,” said Craig Cooper, Chief Legal Officer for POM Wonderful.

POM can choose to appeal the decision, which becomes final after 30 days; the company stated that it was “continuing to review the ruling.”

In a separate case, a U.S. District Court judge in California ruled against POM in a lawsuit that the company filed against Coca-Cola. Aiming to protect its belief that POM Wonderful drinks were of a higher integrity and value that that its competitors, the company accused Coke of misleading consumers by using the term “Pomegranate Blueberry Flavored Blend of 5 Juices” on the label of one of its Minute Maid juice products, even though of the beverage contains only 0.3 percent pomegranate juice and 0.2 percent blueberry juice.

However, the judge ruled that because the FDA allows manufacturers use the names of all juices that comprise and flavor a product – even if they are not predominant by volume – Coke labeling of its Minute Maid beverage is legal.