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Coke Sued Over Marketing Of VitaminWater

January 15, 2009

The consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) announced on Thursday that it had filed a class action lawsuit against Coca-Cola Co., saying the company is making deceptive health claims about its Vitaminwater products.

The lawsuit was filed on Wednesday in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California, and comes just weeks after regulators warned the company about its marketing practices.

In a suit the world’s largest soft drink maker called “ridiculous”, CSPI  alleged that Coke made a range of claims about Vitaminwater that exceed those permitted by the Food and Drug Administration.

“Coke markets Vitaminwater as a healthful alternative to soda by labeling its several flavors with such health buzz words as ‘defense,’ ‘rescue,’ ‘energy’ and ‘endurance,’” said the Washington, DC-based CSPI in a statement.

Coke also claims the drinks promote healthy joints and support immune function while reducing the risk of chronic disease and eye disease, CSPI said.

“In fact, according to CSPI nutritionists, the 33 grams of sugar in each bottle of Vitaminwater do more to promote obesity, diabetes and other health problems than the vitamins in the drinks do to perform the advertised benefits listed on the bottles,” the group said.

Diana Garza Ciarlante, a Coke spokeswoman, said the suit was simply a way for CSPI group to increase readership of its newsletter.

“Glaceau vitaminwater is clearly and properly labeled and shows the amount of vitamins and calories in the product,” Ciarlante said.

During a conference call, a CSPI spokesman said it hopes Coke will change its marketing practices, and that the group would like to see consumers reimbursed “if there is a decent way to get money back to people.”

Coke, which had long lagged behind chief competitor PepsiCo Inc in the area of noncarbonated drinks, announced its $4.1 billion acquisition of Vitaminwater maker Glaceau in May 2007.

Both Coke and Pepsi market such so-called functional beverages, which contain vitamins, nutrients or stimulants such as guarana or caffeine.

Coke fell under FDA scrutiny in December, when the agency said claims that the Diet Coke Plus soft drink includes a variety of vitamins and minerals violated U.S. policy against marketing soda and other snack foods as more nutritious.

Shares of Coca Cola were up 74 cents on Thursday, closing at $43.36.

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