Consumer activists and trial lawyers have been feeling their oats in recent years as food and beverage companies have found themselves responding to several challenges by regulators. Increasingly, the public seems skeptical of the claims and motives of brands — and eager to take them on.
Two recent cases have nicked brands owned by PepsiCo and the Dr Pepper-Snapple Group — so far, with different outcomes.
PepsiCo announced last week that it would remove an emulsifier from Gatorade that also has applications as a flame retardant, prompting Sarah Kavanagh, a teenager who waged an online campaign against brominated vegetable oil (BVO), to claim victory. Meanwhile, Mott's, owned by Dr Pepper Snapple, is the subject of a recently filed class-action suit that claims "deceptive labeling" of its Mott's for Tots Immune Support Fruit Punch.
Neither of these disputes have resulted in federal action, but the Federal Trade Commission, the Food and Drug Administration and other U.S. regulatory agencies have become involved similar cases in recent years. The FTC has continued to challenge Pom Wonderful's claims about its drinks and investigated the harmful overuse of energy drinks among teenagers, while the FDA has taken California Shelled Walnuts to task over claims for its Diamond brand.
It isn't clear whether Kavanagh's efforts resulted in PepsiCo's decision to remove BVO from Gatorade while continuing to use it in Mountain Dew. Gatorade said it had been working to reformulate its citrus-flavored versions without BVO for more than a year.
But the activist credits her petition drive on Change.org, which garnered more than 200,000 digital signatures, for forcing PepsiCo to blink. "With Gatorade being as big as they are, sometimes it was hard to know if we'd ever win," she said, according to BeverageDaily.com. "This is so, so awesome."
"Awesome" would not be how Dr Pepper might describe a Jan. 22 suit filed in the U.S. District Court in Southern California alleging that the name "Immune Support Fruit Punch" falsely implies protection of a child's healthy immune system. The suit contends that vitamins in the beverage are "in a form not scientifically shown to support the immune system."
Dr Pepper- Snapple declined to comment other than to say "that we stand by the claims made on our packaging."