Coca-Cola Co. (KO:US), the world’s largest soft-drink maker, must face a consumer lawsuit challenging the labeling of its Simply Orange, Minute Maid Premium and Minute Maid Pure Squeezed orange juice brands, a judge said.
The consumers allege in court filings that Coca-Cola has marketed Simply Orange as “100 percent pure squeeze” and “not from concentrate” since 2006, when in truth the juice is “chemically flavored, heavily processed, designed and modified and is not “100% pure squeezed,” “simply orange,” “pure” or “natural.”
Such labeling is deceptive and violates state consumer- protection laws, according to the consumers. The Atlanta-based company has made misleading representations about Minute Maid products too, for which it’s liable for breaches of contract, according to the complaint, which combines 13 different cases.
U.S. District Judge Fernando J. Gaitan Jr. in Kansas City, Missouri, today said the allegations were sufficient to overcome defense arguments that the company’s claims were so-called puffery or that the case was barred by federal law. Gaitan also rejected Coca-Cola’s claim the consumers failed to show they had been injured.
“Plaintiffs have asserted false advertising, misrepresentation and deceptive practices claims,” he said in a nine-page ruling.
Coca-Cola’s media relations department didn’t immediately respond to voice-mail and e-mail messages seeking comment on the ruling.
The combined complaint, filed with the Kansas City court in August, included plaintiffs from New York, New Jersey, California, Florida, Illinois, Missouri and Alabama.
Coca-Cola asked Gaitan in September to throw the case out.
“Plaintiffs’ claims must be dismissed insofar as they are premised on promotional statements, such as the Simply Orange and Minute Maid Pure Squeezed product names,” the company said in a filing.
Those names, it said, are “indisputably true, not capable of misleading reasonable consumers as a matter of law or constitute non-actionable puffery.”
The case is In re Simply Orange Juice Marketing & Sales Practices Litigation, 4:12-md-2361, U.S. District Court, Western District of Missouri (Kansas City).
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