A lawsuit accusing Vitaminwater of misleading customers as to its nutritional value moved forward on Thursday, with a federal magistrate judge giving his seal of approval to the case proceeding as a class action.
Judge Robert Levy, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, ruled out financial damages in the case, but said that the plaintiffs are allowed to pursue an injunction against Vitaminwater’s parent company Coca-Cola. Were such an injunction successful, it could limit the claims that Coca-Cola is allowed to make about the water in the future.
Judge Dora Irizarry, also of the Eastern District, had asked for Levy’s input, and will now rule on the magistrate’s opinion.
The suit was first filed in 2009 by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). In a statement issued at the time the suit was filed, the CSPI said that, “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.’”
“The company makes a wide range of dramatic claims, including that its drinks variously reduce the risk of chronic disease, reduce the risk of eye disease, promote healthy joints, and support optimal immune function,” the CSPI said.
“No more than non-carbonated soda”
In 2010, Judge John Gleeson of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York refused to dismiss the suit, writing in an opinion that the water’s name potentially "reinforce[s] a consumer's mistaken belief that the product is comprised of only vitamins and water," and ignores "the fact that there is a key, unnamed ingredient [sugar] in the product."
After Gleeson’s ruling, the CSPI issued a statement calling Vitaminwater “no more than non-carbonated soda, providing unnecessary added sugar and contributing to weight gain, obesity, diabetes, and other diseases.”
Vitaminwater burst onto the drink scene in 2000, when it was introduced by Glacéau (also known as Energy Brands). It followed Smartwater and Fruitwater, which were introduced, respectively, in 1996 and 1998. Coca-Cola purchased Glacéau in 2007 for $4.1 billion.