Lawyers for Vitaminwater admit drink’s ‘health benefits’ not meant to be believed

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August 8, 2013

Are you an average, reasonable consumer – the kind who might, say, expect a drink product with such buzz words as “healthy” and “nutrient enhanced” on its label and “vitamin” in its name to have some of these redeeming benefits?

The seemingly common consumer belief that Vitaminwater, acquired by Coca-Cola for a whopping 4.2 billion in 2007, is healthier than a Coke, has been the subject of litigation by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) since 2009. CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson states at the group’s website that Vitaminwater marketing “will go down in history as one of the boldest and brashest attempts ever to affix a healthy halo to what is essentially a junk food…”

The most recent action in this nutrition identity theft case came last month when a federal magistrate recommended that the case be allowed to proceed as a class action.

Already, however, the Vitaminwater case has managed to distinguish itself in the annals of  product litigation by having produced what is perhaps the most laughable example of bad labeling defense ever. In an early attempt to have the case dismissed, the defendant’s lawyers are reported to have made the claim that “no consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking Vitaminwater was a healthy beverage.”

Given the use of such zingy descriptive terms as “revive,” “power-c” and “energy,” and claims of reducing  the risk of eye disease, keeping joints healthy, and “optimal immune function,” it sure might sound like a healthy beverage. But an ingredient check shows it to be mainly comprised of filtered water, crystalline fructose (another corn-derived sweetener made by the same corn refiners that produce high fructose corn syrup), a tiny bit of fruit juice ( less than half of a percent, according to CSPI) and some synthetic vitamins.

While the people marketing Vitaminwater have made numerous “health” claims on its behalf, a current look at the brand’s deliberately sophomoric-sounding web site reveals some very odd-sounding copy points you can find by clicking on bottles, such as:

power-c: this stuff is red and has something to do with vitamin c.
defense: everyone always says ‘the best defense is a good offense.’ What does that gym coach jibberish (sic) even mean?
Focus: it’s a real shame that archers use their astonishing focus just for shooting arrows.

And if the 120 calories in Vitaminwater and its corn-derived fructose is too much, take a look at Vitaminwater Zero, said to be “naturally sweetened,” but still containing another corn ingredient, erythritol as well as “stevia leaf extract.”

Truvia lawsuit reveals an even bigger deception

At the end of last month I reported on another class action recently filed in Hawaii federal court against Cargill’s Truvia, which claims the “stevia” sweetener isn’t natural at all, but “highly chemically processed,” and “likely to deceive” consumers.

The complaint also revealed that the primary ingredient in Truvia, is erythritol, which coincidentally also happens to be the second ingredient in Vitaminwater Zero after water itself. Erythritol is described in the Truvia lawsuit as coming from corn starch converted “…to glucose through the biochemical process of enzymatic hydrolysis,” further fermented with yeast.

With PepsiCo recently agreeing to pay out $9 million to settle a lawsuit that challenged its Naked Juice brand use of the word “natural” – and with the drink giant agreeing to remove the phrase “all natural” from the product’s label — the Vitaminwater litigation likely being certified as a class action, and the lawsuit against Truvia, it looks as though we can expect to see more changes in food labeling being produced by legal maneuvers than the Food and Drug Administration.