Supreme Court Justices Grill Coca-Cola Over Scarcity Of Pomegranates In Pomegranate Juice

That's a rather large pomegranate on that label.

That’s a rather large pomegranate on that label.

As the top judicial body in the land, the United States Supreme Court has asked some pretty tough questions in its day. But yesterday the justices had a question for Coca-Cola that doesn’t seem like it should be so tricky: Shouldn’t a juice labeled as “pomegranate and blueberry” actually include a fair amount of, um, pomegranates? And blueberries?

To make the whole thing a bit weird(er), the issue of a Minute Maid Juice product sold as a “Pomegranate Blueberry Flavored Blend of 5 Juices” came up after POM Wonderful sued Coca-Cola, claiming that label is misleading and could hurt sales for its own 100% pomegranate juice, reports Reuters.

The issue here is that while there technically are both pomegranate and blueberry juices in the drink, it’s really mostly apple and grape juice with a spare 0.3% pomegranate juice and just 0.2% blueberry juice, POM claims. (Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission is investigating POM’s health claims on its own drink, so the whole thing is a bit tangled.)

Coca-Cola’s lawyer answered questions from the justices yesterday, saying that the label complies with the rules of the Food and Drug Administration. She also said Coca-Cola can’t be sued by POM under the Lanham Act, which is in place to protect trademarks.

But that being said, the justices still seemed to think such a label is misleading and could confuse consumers.

“I don’t know why it’s impossible to have a label that fully complies with the FDA regulations and also happens to be misleading on the entirely different question of commercial competition, consumer confusion that has nothing to do with health,” said Chief Justice John Roberts.

Justice Anthony Kennedy agreed, chiming in, “I think it’s relevant for us to ask whether people are cheated in buying this product.”

To that, the Coca-Cola lawyer said consumers are soo smart, we should just know that if a label says “flavored,” that other juices are included.

“Don’t make me feel bad because I thought that was pomegranate juice,” Justice Kennedy retorted, asking “whether people are cheated in buying this product.”

And just because the FDA regulations allow the label, Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked if that’s enough.

“You’re permitted to use this name under their (FDA) regulations. But why are you permitted to use it in a misleading way?” she asked.

The Coca-Cola lawyer stuck to her guns, saying “Coke’s label is as a matter of law not misleading.”

Ah yes, because when consumers are deciding to buy a product or not, they’re usually considering it as a matter of law and won’t mind if there are barely any actual pomegranates in a pomegranate product.

U.S. top court asks if Coca-Cola juice label is misleading [Reuters]