In the Courtroom: Poland Spring Labeled “Fraud,” Pastors Sue Coke

Poland Spring Accused of Fraud

Nestlé Waters North America Inc. is facing a proposed class action lawsuit alleging that its Poland Spring water products do not meet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) definition of spring water.

The complaint, filed on August 15 in Connecticut federal court, states that “for more than twenty years, Nestlé Waters’ marketing and sales of Poland Spring Water has been a colossal fraud perpetrated against American consumers.” The suit alleges that none of Poland Spring’s eight “natural spring” sites meet FDA regulations which require all bottled spring water “to be collected either at the source of a naturally spring” or from a well that “extracts water that could otherwise exit the earth’s surface from a natural spring.”

Attorneys for the plaintiffs argue that genuine spring water “signifies purity and high quality” to consumers and “commands a premium price” as compared to non-spring water. It goes on to allege that “rather than being collected from pristine mountain or forest springs as the images on those labels depict, Poland Spring Water products all contain ordinary groundwater that Defendant collects from wells.”

Poland Spring bottled waters are sourced from eight springs in Maine, according to the company’s website. The suit disputes that, stating that there is a lack of “any historical evidence for six of [Nestlé’s] alleged springs, and two are former springs that no longer exist.”

Attorneys for the plaintiffs also state that “the famous Poland Spring in Poland Spring, Maine, which defendant’s labels claim is a source of Poland Spring Water, ran dry nearly 50 years ago.”

In addition, the complaint states that Poland Spring’s “six largest volume groundwater collection sites in Maine – which in recent years have collectively supplied up to 99% of the water in Poland Spring Water products – are near a present or former human waste dump, refuse pit, landfill, ash pile, salt mound, farm where pesticides were previously used, fish hatchery or toxic petroleum dump site.”

In a statement published on its website, Nestlé Waters North America stated: “The claims made in the lawsuit are without merit and an obvious attempt to manipulate the legal system for personal gain.”

It went on: “Poland Spring is 100% spring water. It meets the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations defining spring water, all state regulations governing spring classification for standards of identity, as well as all federal and state regulations governing spring water collection, good manufacturing practices, product quality and labeling. We remain highly confident in our legal position.”

Nestlé previously settled a 2003 class action suit filed in Connecticut Superior Court that made similar claims disputing the source of Poland Spring bottled water. The company did not admit to any wrongdoing and agreed to pay out about $8 million in consumer discounts and coupons and make more than $2 million in charitable donations over a five-year period.

According to the Nestlé’s annual report, Nestlé Waters North America has generated in excess of $4 billion in U.S. and Canada sales in the Fiscal Year 2016.

D.C. Pastors Take On Coca-Cola

Two Washington, D.C.-area pastors filed a lawsuit last month alleging The Coca-Cola Company and soda industry trade group the American Beverage Association (ABA) have deliberately misled consumers by choosing to “omit material facts” about the health risks associated with the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

In conjunction with public health non-profit The Praxis Project, Pastor William H. Lamar IV, of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., and Pastor Delman L. Coates, of the Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md., filed a complaint accusing Coke and the ABA of engaging in “deceptive marketing, labeling and sale of Coca-Cola’s sugar-sweetened beverages” and running “an aggressive campaign to protect profits earned from the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages by flooding the market with countervailing representations that obscure this link between the beverages and disease.”

The suit claims that Pastors Lamar and Coates’s ability to provide spiritual guidance to their respective congregations “regarding the hazards posed by sugar-sweetened beverages are hampered by Defendants’ deceptive marketing, labeling, and sale of Coca-Cola’s sugar-sweetened beverages.”

The plaintiffs, filing the case on behalf of themselves and the general public, are seeking relief, including an injunction, to “halt Defendants’ false marketing of sugar-sweetened beverages.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rates of obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease are significantly higher among African-American and Latino populations than among whites.

“It’s become really clear to me that we’re losing more people to the sweets than to the streets,” Coates told the Washington Post. “There’s a great deal of misinformation in our communities, and I think that’s largely a function of these deceptive marketing campaigns.”

Coke dismissed the allegations in a statement to the Post. “The allegations here are likewise legally and factually meritless, and we will vigorously defend against them,” the statement said. “The Coca-Cola Company understands that we have a role to play in helping people reduce their sugar consumption.”

According to the Post, Coke and the American Beverage Association do not need to respond to the complaint until September.

Settlement Approved in GT’s, Whole Foods Class Suit

Last Tuesday, a California federal judge granted final approval to an $8.25 million settlement deal between GT’s Kombucha, Whole Foods and a group of consumers who sued the two companies for allegedly mislabeling the antioxidant, alcohol and sugar content in GT’s products.

Final confirmation of the proposed settlement, which was granted preliminary approval in January, was held up pending a ruling on objections filed by four individual class members which disputed several stipulations of the deal, including the awarding of roughly $2 million in fees and expenses, or 25 percent of the total financial value of the settlement, to class attorneys.

In his August 22 decision, U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez dismissed all objections to the proposed settlement deal. On the complaint related to attorneys fees, he wrote that class counsel’s request for 25 percent of the gross settlement amount was “reasonable in light of the duration, complexity, and results achieved in the case.”

The original complaint over mislabeling claims was filed in March 2015. Last November, it was consolidated with a separate complaint alleging that GT’s Kombucha product packaging was prone to leakage and explosion due to excessive carbonation.

In addition to the financial restitution, the settlement requires Millenium Products Inc., GT’s parent company, to cease using the term “antioxidant” on packaging, include a warning about the alcohol content, and display a disclaimer that “contents are under pressure” and that leaving the product unrefrigerated can “increase pressure, causing product to leak or gush.” Millennium agreed to ensure that the product’s accurate sugar content was reflected on labels as well.