A recent Supreme Court ruling sided with Pom Wonderful in a case claiming that The Coca-Cola Company’s “Pomegranate Blueberry” beverage offered by its Minute Maid unit is misleading. The 8-0 ruling allows Pom Wonderful to go forward with its lawsuit against Coke alleging that the “Pomegranate Blueberry” label is misleading because 99 percent of the drink is apple and grape juice. Only 0.3 percent is pomegranate juice and 0.2 percent is blueberry juice. Pom filed its lawsuit against Coke in 2008 after it began losing market share to Minute Maid’s “Pomegranate Blueberry Flavored Blend of 5 Juices” drink. The drink’s label shows the words “Pomegranate Blueberry” in much larger type than the rest of the phrase and emphasizes the pomegranate with a large picture of the fruit.

The Supreme Court’s ruling reversed the lower courts’ decisions in favor of Coke, which were based on Coke’s defense that the label conforms to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules. The Supreme Court’s reversal is important because it sets a precedent that a food label could technically comply with FDA rules but still be misleading to the consumer demographic. Justice Kennedy wrote that the law governing regulation of food and drug labels does not preclude a competitor from suing under the Lanham Act for unfair competition based on false or misleading claims. The Court also ruled that federal food and trademark laws complement each other in the regulation of misleading labels – they are not interpreted as one or the other.

This decision is interesting as it could open the door to more litigation by competitors against food makers for deceptive labeling. On an interesting note, the federal government has filed a separate and unrelated deceptive advertising case against Pom for claiming that its pomegranate juice can treat or prevent heart disease, prostate cancer, and other illnesses. The Federal Trade Commission’s action is pending at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.]

David Lilenfeld