Red Bull, POM Wonderful Under Fire Over Marketing Claims

Suit alleges energy drink no better than coffee; FTC upholds decision on pomegranate drink

Published in CSP Daily News

NEW YORK -- A lawsuit claims that Red Bull uses deceptive marketing to charge a premium for a product whose claims are largely unfounded, said a Reuters report. Red Bull, the energy drink whose slogan is that it "gives you wings," provides no more energy than a cup of coffee or a caffeine pill, according to the suit made public on Wednesday.

"Defendants are able to charge and get a substantial premium for their products over readily available and much lower-priced sources of caffeine that provide the same or substantially similar results," the lawsuit said.

Energy drinks like Red Bull have become increasingly popular in recent years, but have also faced increased scrutiny. In October, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) said it was investigating reports of five deaths that may be associated with the Monster energy drink, made by Monster Beverage Corp .

The lawsuit against Red Bull was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and was made public Wednesday. The lead plaintiff is Benjamin Careathers of the Bronx, N.Y., who has been drinking Red Bull since 2002, according to the suit. It cited recent reports in the scientific journal Nutrition Reviews and in The New York Times casting doubt on claims made by makers of energy drinks.

An 8.4-ounce can of Red Bull costs at least $2.19 and contains 80 milligrams of caffeine, the suit said. By comparison, a tablet of regular strength NoDoz costs about 30 cents and contains 100 mg of caffeine, it said. "Even a 12-oz. serving of Starbucks coffee costs $1.85 and would contain far more caffeine than a regular serving of Red Bull," the suit said.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction requiring the company to stop advertising that the drink can provide benefits it does not and to correct "any erroneous impression consumers may have derived concerning the nature, characteristics or qualities of Red Bull." It also asks for restitution of all funds the company acquired from the plaintiffs by means that the court deems unlawful.

Red Bull officials and attorneys did not immediately respond to Reuters' requests for comment.

Red Bull in a product of Red Bull GmbH of Austria and Red Bull North America Inc., Santa Monica, Calif.

Read CSP news director Steve Holtz's industry opinion on the Red Bull suit. And check out his previous editorial on the investigation into Monster.

Separately, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has upheld a judge's decision that the marketers of POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice and POMx supplements deceptively advertised their products and did not have adequate support for claims that the products could treat, prevent or reduce the risk of heart disease, prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction, and that they were clinically proven to work.

The opinion found that the POM marketers made deceptive claims in 36 advertisements and promotional materials challenged at trial.

The FTC issued a final order that bars the POM marketers from making any claim that a food, drug or dietary supplement is "effective in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of any disease," including heart disease, prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction, unless the claim is supported by two randomized, well-controlled, human clinical trials. The order also prohibits misrepresentations regarding any test, study or research and requires competent and reliable scientific evidence to support claims about the "health benefits, performance or efficacy" of any food, drug or dietary supplement.

In upholding Judge Chappell's Initial Decision and issuing its Opinion and Final Order, the Commission denied the appeal filed by Los Angeles-based POM Wonderful LLC and others.

The challenged ads appeared in national publications such as Parade, Fitness, The New York Times and Prevention magazines; on Internet sites such as pomegranatetruth.com, pomwonderful.com and pompills.com; on bus stops and billboards; in newsletters to customers; and on tags attached to the product.

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packaged beverages