Deceptive Advertising By POM Wonderful
May 23, 2012

Deceptive Advertising By POM Wonderful

Connie K. Ho for

Shaped in a curvy bottle with a heart in place of the letter “O” and described as treating, preventing, or reducing various illnesses -- these are all factors that went into POM Wonderful LLC´s marketing of its pomegranate products. On Monday, May 21, a federal administrative judge ruled that POM Wonderful LLC had promoted incorrect information regarding its pomegranate products.

Prior to a complaint filed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), much of the advertising of POM Wonderful LLC centered on the idea that the pomegranate-made beverage was an “Antioxidant Superpower.” According to Bloomberg Newsweek, the owners of POM spent $35 million on over 100 studies but weren´t able to prove that pomegranate juice or pills could prevent or treat disorders like heart disease, prostate cancer, and erectile dysfunction.

“This makes it clear why everyone should be suspicious of the results of sponsored studies,” Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University, told Bloomberg Businessweek. “POM-sponsored studies produce results favorable to POM.”

The FTC filed a complaint against the company in September 2010 in its goal to tackle the issue of over-hyped claims in food advertising. The claims by the FTC were held up by Chief Administrative Law Judge Michael Chappell against POM Wonderful LLC and its parent company Roll International Corp. In particular, the FTC alleged that POM Wonderful LLC violated federal law by promoting their product with ads that included statements of disease prevention and treatment claims. The FTC believed that the claims made by the company were false and were not substantiated with scientific studies. These ads were placed in a number of places, including national publications, Internet sites, bus stops and billboards, customer newsletters, as well as on the product itself.

“Any consumer who sees POM Wonderful products as a silver bullet against disease has been misled,” noted David Vladeck, Director of the FTC´s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a prepared statement.  “When a company touts scientific research in its advertising, the research must squarely support the claims made.  Contrary to POM Wonderful´s advertising, the available scientific information does not prove that POM Juice or POMx effectively treats or prevents these illnesses.”

In making his decision, Judge Chappell stated that the deceptive advertising of POM Wonderful LLC was a serious matter because it promoted health benefits related to bodily diseases but it was difficult for consumers to evaluate if these claims were true or not. An order by Judge Chappell barred the company from advertising the products as having health benefits, unless they were able to show “competent and reliable scientific substantiate that the representation is true.” POM Wonderful LLC could not misrepresent any data or “the existence, contents, validity, results, conclusions, or interpretations of any test, study, or research.” The judge also required that POM Wonderful LLC makers adhere to a set of guidelines to make sure the company complied with the order and stated that any advertising or promotional materials had to first be sent to the FTC for inspection.

However, Chappell rejected a proposal by the FTC to have the company provide proof from medical trials, which is the process that pharmaceutical companies normally undergo. The judge´s ruling will be final after 30 days, unless the company appeals the decision.

"We consider this not only to be a huge win for us, but for the natural food products industry," remarked Craig Cooper, Chief Legal Officer for POM Wonderful LLC, said in a company statement regarding the judge´s rejection of the FTC proposal on the product to undergo medical trials.