‘A bunch of lawyers get a $1m payday!’ CSPI savages Coke Vitaminwater settlement


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Vitaminwater divides opinion: Coke describes it as 'great tasting and hydrating', the CSPI dismisses it as 'sugar water'
Vitaminwater divides opinion: Coke describes it as 'great tasting and hydrating', the CSPI dismisses it as 'sugar water'

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The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) today filed an objection to a proposed settlement of the ‘copycat’ Vitaminwater lawsuits, claiming it only enriches lawyers and does nothing to stop what it alleges is the brand’s deceptive marketing.

The CSPI is furious at a proposed agreement filed at the start of August between Coke and a group of private law firms that if approved will halt actions begun from late 2010 and originally filed in Ohio, Illinois, Florida, Missouri and US Virgin Islands.

CSPI says the deal – under consideration now by a judge at the Sothern District of Ohio Western Division – provides no legal relief to customers, since it only stops Vitaminwater making statements to consumers that it has already stopped making.

Coke never admitted liability in the consolidated action, which was moved to the Eastern District of New York, and has agreed with the plaintiffs to take measures including (1)  stating calorie levels on front of pack (this is already done) and not to use specific claims such as ‘vitamins + water = all you need’ (already redundant).

‘A great-tasting hydrating beverage’: Coke defends Vitaminwater

Refusing to admit liability, Coke said it was settling the suits to avoid the uncertainty and costs of protracted litigation, and has staunchly defended Vitaminwater, describing it as a “great tasting, hydrating beverage with essential vitamins and water – and labels clearly showing ingredients and calorie content”.

Steve Gardner, who is CSPI litigation director, conceded to BeverageDaily.com today that his organization may face an uphill battle to overturn the settlement – which covers the plaintiffs’ attorney costs and labeling/marketing changes including those listed above, but does not award damages to claimants.

Gardner said this was because the same judge who is being asked to approve the settlement acted as a mediator when agreement was reached.

“[But] we believe the court can see that the case actually got no relief for the class that had not already occurred by other means,”​ he told this website.

“After that, the only relief is the $1.2m to the lawyers, who demonstrably obtained no relief for the consumers they claim to represent,”​Gardner added.

What’s in the name ‘Vitaminwater’? For CSPI, quite a lot...

CSPI dismisses Vitaminwater as “sugar water”​ and sued Coke in California back in 2009 (in a still ongoing, separate action) attacking the brand’s ‘health-related buzz words’ – namely, defense, rescue, energy and endurance, and claims relating to healthy joints and reduced risk of eye disease.

The very name, Vitaminwater, is deceptive, CSPI claims – since it serves to obscure the sugar content of the drink. In mid-2010 federal judge John Gleeson seemed to agree​, when rejecting Coke’s motion to dismiss the CSPI suit.

Gleeson wrote that the name of the drinks and other statements on pack “have the potential to reinforce a consumer’s mistaken belief that the product is comprised of only vitamins and water”.

Objecting to the settlement today, CSPI said the agreement did not prevent Vitaminwater from continuing to use buzz words including ‘focus’, ‘revive’ and energy’, or of naming fruits on the label, despite low juice content.

For instance, Vitaminwater ‘focus kiwi-strawberry’, for instance, has no kiwi juice or strawberry juice,CSPI noted, adding that it thought Coke was violating Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules against fortifying ‘junk’ foods with vitamins.

Coke did not respond to a request for comment.

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