In the Courtroom: Hint and Zico Face Class Actions

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A pair of class action lawsuits filed in California last week accuse two well-known beverage companies of making false and misleading claims on their packaging and in marketing materials.

Both suits were filed in the Superior Court of California, Los Angeles County, and are aimed at products that have simple ingredient suites: in the case of Zico, a coconut water, the allegation centers on whether the product has added sugar; in the case of Hint Water, it’s whether there’s a synthetic additive used in a product that claims to be all-natural.

In a complaint filed last week Lisa Kim Madrigal alleged that Hint Water, falsely markets its flavored waters as natural because the products contain propylene glycol, a synthetic liquid solvent used in manufacturing flavor essences.

The lawsuit alleges that Hint’s “representations about the ingredients of alleged healthful properties of the products,” including the brand’s still waters, sparkling Fizz and caffeine-infused Kick SKUs, are false, misleading and unlawful.

The plaintiff claims that “independent and reliable testing of sample Hint Water Products reveals the material presence of propylene glycol in these products,” contradicting claims made on Hint’s labeling and advertising that promote the brand as “Natural,” “All Natural” and “100% Natural.”

A video on Hint’s website which features Kara Goldin, the CEO and founder of Hint, “cutting pieces of fruit and placing them into the water to ‘infuse’ natural flavors” was cited as further evidence that the company is attempting to mislead consumers about the formulation of the the company’s products.

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations, a product cannot be labeled as being “natural” if it contains any artificial flavor, coloring ingredient, chemical preservative, or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient and if the product has been more than minimally processed.

However, the rules allow for exceptions granted on a case-by-case basis if it can be demonstrated that the use of the ingredient does not significantly change the character of the product to the point that it could no longer be considered natural.

According to the USDA, all products claiming to be “natural” on labeling should be accompanied by a brief statement directly beneath or beside the claim that explains what the term means.

Hint did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Also in California, Coca-Cola-owned coconut water band Zico is facing claims that it violates the state’s consumer protection laws by marketing its products as containing “no added sugar”, according to a class action lawsuit filed on Wednesday and first reported on Law360.com.

The lead plaintiff in the case is Jason Reza, a resident of San Clemente who alleges he purchased multiple bottles of Zico coconut water because the “no added sugar” labeling implied that it was a healthier alternative to other coconut waters that include added sugars.

A spokesperson for Zico issued the following statement in response to the suit: “Our ZICO products are clearly and accurately labeled in compliance with applicable laws and regulations. ZICO’s Natural 100% Coconut Water does not contain added sugar. We will defend ourselves against these accusations.”

The case comes as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prepares to implement a new Nutrition Facts label for food and beverage products which will contain information on added sugars, which the FDA defines as sugars that are either added during the processing of foods or are packaged as such.

The suit cites a FDA regulation that prohibits the use of the phrase “no added sugar” on food and beverage labels unless that product resembles another product that normally has sugar.

In 2012, leading coconut water brand Vita Coco made the decision to add a small amount sugar to its products for taste consistency and to put it on its ingredients list.