Trial began earlier this month in which Pom Wonderful claims that Welch Foods, Inc. deceptively advertises its Welch’s White Grape Pomegranate juice.
Pom filed its suit in January 2009. Although Welch’s made several attempts to avoid trial, U.S. District Court Judge A. Howard Matz denied Welch’s motion to dismiss as well as its summary judgment motion, in which Welch argued that Pom’s suit was preempted by the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act.
“Congress did not intend federal law to exclusively occupy the fields of food labeling and advertising,” Judge Matz wrote. As reported by The National Law Journal, Pom’s attorney began his opening statement by holding up a 64 oz. bottle of Welch’s White Grape Pomegranate juice to the eight jurors, announcing that it was the “sole focus” of the lawsuit. He told jurors that Welch’s has reduced Pom’s profits by 20% deceiving consumers about the amount of pomegranate juice in the product.
Pom contends that consumers were deceived by the juice’s use of “crisp, luscious views” of a pomegranate to think that Welch’s contains significant amounts of pomegranate, when in fact it has less than 1oz. of pomegranate juice. Pom’s counsel promised the jury that eight people will testify that they bought Welch’s juice – instead of Pom’s – because it was less expensive and had the same health benefits. All eight switched back to Pom’s after realizing the actual amount of pomegranate juice in Welch’s, he added, noting that Pom has lost 20 percent of its sales to Welch’s.
But in his opening statement, Welch’s counsel told the jury that Welch’s juice and Pom’s products are not competitors, but are displayed in different parts of stores and have different target markets. He then held up a bottle of Pom – a different shape, size, and color than the Welch’s juice – and told jurors the case was really about two juices, that don’t look anything alike. Welch’s sells to parents with kids, while Pom targets those aged 55 and older who have health concerns, Welch’s lawyer told jurors. He argued that the label is meant to tell consumers how the juice tastes – not the actual percentage of juice in the bottle.
Why it matters: Pom is no stranger to litigation and legal scrutiny, having sued several other drink makers such as Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc., and Tropicana Products. The company also received a warning letter from the Food and Drug Administration in February, cautioning it that the “therapeutic claims” about its pomegranate juice could violate the law by depicting it as a drug.