POM Wonderful scored a big win on Thursday after the Supreme Court gave it the green light to sue juice rival Coca-Cola for false advertising. But don't expect the floodgates to open with scores of similar lawsuits, says one attorney.
Jeffrey Brown, a partner in the Chicago office of law firm Michael Best & Friedrich, told FoodNavigator-USA: "POM's case against Coca-Cola was originally filed in 2008. It's now 2014, and it's not even over yet.
"Now the case [POM alleges Coke misled consumers by marketing a Minute Maid juice comprised almost entirely of apple and grape juice as ‘Pomegranate Blueberry'] will go back to the district courts, where POM will still have to prove its case, and that won't be easy.
"POM has to prove not just that the label was misleading, but to prove injury, which resulted in damage to POM, so there is still a long way to go here."
These cases are extremely expensive and time consuming
He added: "These cases [where competitors sue each other under the Lanham Act alleging false advertising] are extremely expensive and time consuming. And there is always the element of tit for tat. If you sue a rival, they might sue you.
"Most of them are addressed with letter writing campaigns or resolved through the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, and I don't really see that changing. This [Supreme Court opinion] is good news for POM but I don't see the floodgates opening."
As to the broader implications of the Supreme Court opinion on juice labeling in particular, it all depends on whether POM ultimately prevails, which is by no means obvious, he said.
In the meantime, companies should already be thinking about whether their labels are false or misleading in their entirety, aside from whether they are strictly compliant with juice labeling regs in the federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act, he said, so if they are already doing that, "this doesn't really change the landscape."