Coca-Cola’s Juice Boxes Not Actually Healthy, Class Suit Says (subscription to Law360 required)

  • We have reported on FDA’s proposed rule for when foods can be labeled with the claim “healthy” on their packaging.  The proposed definition would permit the “healthy” claim on food products that contain a meaningful amount of fruit (or another specified food group) and adhere to specific limits for certain nutrients, including added sugars.  Under FDA’s proposed rule, the fruits group can include 100% fruit juice with no added sugars. 
  • On March 28, 2023, a proposed class action lawsuit was filed against Coca-Cola Co. over Minute Maid juice boxes bearing the statements “Good for You!” and “Part of a Healthy, Balanced Diet” and featuring images of whole fruit.  The plaintiff alleges that while a piece of whole fruit may be healthy, it is transformed into an unhealthy food when the natural food matrix is destroyed in producing juice, which concentrates and releases sugar from the fruit’s fiber.  The plaintiff asserts that Coca-Cola’s “health and wellness” messaging on these 100% juice products (e.g., Apple, Mixed Berry, et al.) preys on existing misconceptions that juice is healthy and the messages are false and misleading because scientific evidence (presented in the complaint) demonstrates that juice, like the Juice Boxes, increases risk of serious chronic diseases—such that authoritative bodies recommend avoiding or limiting its consumption.  The complaint also alleges that the juice box labeling violates FDA’s nutrient content regulations and fortification policy.
  • This new lawsuit involves complex issues, including the role of a single product in the total diet and whether sugar from fruits should be distinguished from “added sugars.”  In this regard, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while recommending against juice for infants and stating that “juice after 12 months is not necessary,” also states that “4 ounces or less of 100% juice can be provided” for children over 12 months and recommends checking to be sure a juice product is 100% juice.  FDA’s proposed rule for “healthy” is in the early stages and some comments argue the definition should not apply to 100% juices that typically contain less dietary fiber than the whole fruit or vegetable.