Should a drink called “Kale Blazer” have kale as its primary ingredient? When something says “no sugar added” on the label, do you think that means the beverage is low in sugar? These and many other questions may eventually possibly be answered by a new lawsuit filed against PepsiCo.
This morning, the folks at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) filed a lawsuit [PDF] against PepsiCo over the marketing of the company’s Naked line of juice drinks.
The complaint, which represents a trio of Naked customers (as in people who bought Naked products; not people who shopped while naked), accuses PepsiCo of making false and misleading claims about these juice drinks.
According to the plaintiffs, PepsiCo knows that a growing number of consumers are willing to pay more for certain, more healthy ingredients. The complaint cites this Feb. 2016 interview with Andrea Theodore, a PepsiCo exec in charge of Naked’s marketing where she explains that the targeted “Dynamic Doer” consumer has an active lifestyle is “willing to spend more” for foods and beverages that complement that lifestyle.
“There’s value in [the Naked Juice brand proposition],” Theodore said at the time (brackets in original story). “It’s worth its weight in gold and resonates with these consumers because we have the same values they have.”
But the plaintiffs allege that PepsiCo is selectively pushing certain healthier ingredients to the fore of their marketing, even when those aren’t the primary ingredients in a Naked juice.
Going back to Naked’s Kale Blazer juice as an example, the lawsuit notes that while kale gets the starring role in the product’s name and label artwork (where no other ingredients are pictured), it’s actually the third most prominent juice in the beverage, behind orange juice and apple juice.
“Although Kale Blazer is predominantly orange juice, it is not named ‘orange juice with kale and apple juice,’ or ‘orange juice with kale and apple flavors,’ nor does the label predominantly show oranges and apples,” explains the complaint.
The marketing text on the back of the bottle similarly fails to mention oranges and apples, but does mention that the kale is “blended with cucumber, spinach, celery, and a pinch of ginger… Long live greens.”
The company also launched a marketing and advertising blitz surrounding Kale Blazer, with ads heavily featuring the dark leafy green with statements like “You just can’t get enough,” and social media campaigns like the @TweetsByKale Twitter account — all of which played up kale as the healthy, core ingredient of the drink but did not mention the fruit juices that are the primary ingredients.
And CSPI says Kale Blazer is not a one-off. The complaint includes the chart (at right) of 16 other Naked products where apple or orange juice is the primary ingredient, but where a healthier sounding item is used for the beverage’s name.
The lawsuit also takes aim at the “no sugar added” marketing claims made on Naked labels. The plaintiffs allege that this claim misleads customers into thinking that a drink is low in sugar, when in fact these drinks have anywhere from 34 grams to 61 grams of sugar per 15.2 fl. oz. serving (2.2g to 4g per fl. oz). For reference, a 16.9 fl. oz. Coca-Cola has 55 grams of sugar, or around 3.25g per fl. oz.
The plaintiffs in the case say they paid more for Naked juices because they thought they were buying something healthier, and that they would not have purchased these drinks if it weren’t for the marketing.
“Consumers are paying higher prices for the healthful and expensive ingredients advertised on Naked labels, such as berries, cherries, kale and other greens, and mango,” says CSPI litigation director Maia Kats. “But consumers are predominantly getting apple juice, or in the case of Kale Blazer, orange and apple juice. They’re not getting what they paid for.”
The proposed class action complaint accuses PepsiCo of unjustly enriching itself and asks the court to provide injunctive relief and monetary relief to affected consumers.
In response to the lawsuit, a rep for PepsiCo tells Consumerist the company believes the complaint is “baseless,” and that “There is nothing misleading about our Naked Juice products.”
“Every bottle of Naked Juice clearly identifies the fruit and vegetables that are within,” reads the statement, claiming that the Kale Blazer label accurately indicates each bottle contains 5-3/4 Kale leaves.
“All products in the Naked portfolio proudly use fruits and/or vegetables with no sugar added, and all Non-GMO claims on label are verified by an independent third party,” continues PepsiCo. “Any sugar present in Naked Juice products comes from the fruits and/or vegetables contained within and the sugar content is clearly reflected on label for all consumers to see.”