Lawsuit Alleges that Consumers Are Misled by Naked Juice Labeling
The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has filed a lawsuit against PepsiCo, alleging that its Naked Juice products, including Kale Blazer and Green Machine, rely on misleading labels to induce consumers to purchase drinks that are not nearly as nutritious as they appear to be. According to the CSPI, consumers need to read the fine print before they will understand that the pictures and big print claims on the label don’t tell the whole story.
The CSPI’s class action complaint alleges that PepsiCo markets the Naked line of juice and smoothie beverages as “highly nutritious drinks” containing “only the best ingredients.” According to CSPI, product labels call attention to pictures of nutritious ingredients like kale and acai berry, when the bulk of product consists of cheaper and less nutritious substances, particularly apple juice. Only by scrutinizing the list of ingredients do consumers who expect to buy juiced kale learn that they are actually buying a mixture of orange and apple juice to which a small amount of kale has been added.
The complaint also contends that the words “No Sugar Added” imply that the drinks are low in sugar. In fact, Naked beverages contain between 35 and 61 grams of sugar. By comparison, a can of Pepsi contains 41 grams of sugar.
In addition, the CSPI alleges that consumers are misled by the pictures on the product label in conjunction with statements on the label about the product’s vitamin content. While consumers are led to believe that the vitamins come from the fruits and vegetables that are pictured, many of the vitamins are added by PepsiCo during the manufacturing process.
Finally, the CSPI avers that PepsiCo markets Naked products as containing “only … the best ingredients” and “just the healthiest fruits & vegetables” when they also contain common ingredients of low nutritional value. The marketing claims, CPSI contends, are false, deceptive, and misleading.
The lead plaintiff is Dina Lipkind of Brooklyn. The lawsuit alleges: “Ms. Lipkind paid for Naked beverages predominantly consisting of high-value ingredients and little sugar, but she received products predominantly consisting of apple juice and orange juice and containing substantial amounts of sugar.” The complaint avers that Ms. Lipkind and the other plaintiffs paid more for Naked drinks than they would have been willing to pay if they had not been misled about the ingredients.
The CSPI seeks an award of damages for all American consumers who purchased Naked beverages believing they were made from high quality fruits and vegetables, were low in sugar, and contained natural vitamins. The lawsuit claims that PepsiCo has been unjustly enriched — that is, it obtained money to which it was not entitled — by fooling customers into buying products they would not have purchased if PepsiCo had not engaged in deceptive marketing practices.
The lawsuit also seeks additional damages for purchasers of Naked beverages in New York and California based on PepsiCo’s alleged violation of consumer protection laws in those states. Those laws permit the recovery of statutory or punitive damages in addition to the buyer’s actual loss. They also authorize the court to enter injunctive relief prohibiting continuing violations of consumer protection laws.
PepsiCo responded to the suit in a brief press release that calls the lawsuit “baseless.” According to PepsiCo, “Every bottle of Naked Juice clearly identifies the fruit and vegetables that are within. For example, the label on our Kale Blazer juice accurately indicates each bottle contains 5 3/4 Kale leaves.”
It is true that Naked Juice labels identify the product’s ingredients, but PepsiCo’s response misses the point of the lawsuit. The suit acknowledges that bottle labels identify the contents, but contends that they do so in small print that is overshadowed by misleading images. The label for Kale Blazer, for example, shows pictures of kale but not of oranges, even though orange juice is the predominant ingredient.
PepsiCo also points out that “no sugar added” is a factually accurate statement since the sugar in naked juice products comes from the fruits and vegetables that are used to make the drink. That response does not address the claim that “no sugar added” implies that Naked Juice is a low-calorie drink, which the CSPI contends is misleading given the actual sugar content.
Lessons for Consumers
Some nutritionists say that Naked Juice drinks are healthy, despite their high calorie content. Apple and orange juice might also improve the flavor of products like kale, which consumers might not otherwise find palatable. The lawsuit, however, does not suggest that the drinks are unhealthy or that PepsiCo was wrong to improve the taste of kale. Instead, the CSPI contends that consumers who are misled by Naked Juice labels do not get what they think they are paying for.
The CSPI lawsuit may force PepsiCo to make its Naked Juice labels more transparent. The company already removed the phrase “all natural” from Naked Juice labels in response to an earlier lawsuit.
Regardless of its outcome, the lawsuit should raise consumer awareness. Smart consumers read the entire label, including the fine print, before purchasing a food product. Knowing what you are buying means not relying on enticing pictures on a label to tell the whole story.
Photo Credit: Naked Juice. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.