A class action lawsuit alleging that the best stuff on earth is actually made from cheap and unhealthy junk is on the verge of reinstatement after being tossed two years ago.
The lawsuit, filed in New Jersey in 2007, alleged that Snapple manufacturer Cadbury Schweppes defrauded consumers by labeling the drink "all natural," and, of course, "the best stuff on earth." The suit said this language was misleading because the drink contains man-made high fructose corn syrup.
The suit was thrown out by a lower court after the judge determined that federal regulations preempted the state-based claims. According to the judge, labeling requirements set forth by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prevented the plaintiffs from arguing a case based on state laws.
Judge Mary Cooper reasoned that FDA guidelines "so thoroughly occupy the field of the beverage labeling at issue in this case that it would be unreasonable to infer that Congress intended states to supplement this area."
But a three-judge panel that recently heard arguments appears likely to reopen the case, according to legal experts. Recent years have seen more courts allowing state-based claims even when federal regulations are in place.
Whether the suit will succeed is another matter. The FDA hasn't outlined what "all natural" actually means, and scientists disagree as to whether high fructose corn syrup falls under the "natural" umbrella.
The controversial ingredient — made of fructose and glucose — is common in soft drinks and plays a large role in America's growing obesity epidemic. It is also cheaper for manufacturers than actual sugar, due in part to corn subsidies provided by the government. Unsurprisingly, the Corn Refiners Association filed an amicus curaie brief on behalf of Snapple in the instant action.
In November 2008, Snapple rolled out a newly-calibrated line of beverages. Along with a higher-brow bottle design and an emphasis on the drinks' black and green tea leaves, the new formula uses actual sugar in place of high-fructose corn syrup. The decision to give the company a makeover came after increased competition from lower-key drinks, including Honest Tea, a favorite of President Barack Obama. Recent years have seen a decline in Snapple sales as more teas and other beverages enter the market.
Just because Snapple no longer uses high-fructose corn syrup doesn't preclude the suit moving forward, however. If the class is reinstated, it will be on behalf of those who bought "all natural" Snapple before November 2008.
Cadbury Schweppes was spun off into the Dr. Pepper Snapple group in May 2008. The company, unsurprisingly, manufactures both Snapple and the popular soft drink Dr. Pepper, which was originally made by the Coca-Cola company.
About a year before the present lawsuit was filed, a California woman filed suit against the drink manufacturer, claiming that the company's Diet Lime Green Tea contained "a disgusting foreign substance," and that several bottle tops were not properly sealed. That plaintiff was so enamored with Snapple that she was known to purchase up to seven cases of lime green tea at once.