POM Wonderful can (and does) take credit for introducing Americans to pomegranate as a beverage. But as competitors came into the segment and created their own pomegranate beverages, Pom Wonderful's grip began to slip — especially as the FTC started clamping down on POM's "super health powers!" advertising claims.
The beverage-maker was sued by the FTC in 2010 and it has remained under the watchful eye of the feds, who are cracking down on health-related promises by marketers (ask Skechers about their $40 million pay-back to customers).
And in its latest legal twist, this week, POM wasn't able to get a U.S. District Court judge in California to agree with its stance against a tough competitor, Coca-Cola.
So the Calfornia-based pomegranate grower and processor began to get aggressive in court in an attempt to protect what it saw as the integrity and higher value of its own Pom Wonderful drinks against competitors' diluted beverages that leverage the good name of pompegranates — without committing to using a lot of pomegranate juice, which is a high-cost ingredient.
Coca-Cola became a specific target of POM Wonderful in a suit against a Minute Maid drink launched in 2007, Pomegranate Blueberry Flavored Blend of 5 Juices. The product is mostly (99.4 percent) apple and grape juice — and only 0.3 percent pomegranate juice, 0.2 percent blueberry juice and 0.1 percent raspberry juice. A label on the front displays a picture of all of the fruits.
POM alleged that Coke was misleading consumers and wanted to force Coke to alter its label, including making the type of the words "Pomegranate Blueberry" less bold than that of "Flavored Blend of 5 Juices."
Trouble was, everything the Minute Maid product was doing was all fine with the federal government. The FDA allows manufacturers to name beverages using names of juices that may be in and flavor the drink but which aren't predominant by volume. So the California judge simply affirmed earlier rulings in this four-year-old case — that Coca-Cola's labeling of the Minute Maid juice is perfectly legal, even if misleading (and POM would argue, deceptive).
In fact, the court said in blocking POM's claim, "We do not hold that Coca-Cola's label is non-deceptive." And the court left the FDA free to act against Coca-Cola if it wants to.
That's not even rewarding half a loaf to POM's side — only a couple of slices. But unless POM Wonderful wants to try to take its case to the U.S. Supreme Court, it may be the end of the road for POM Wonderful's grudge match with Coca-Cola — and its latest round of legal squeezing.