The U.S. Supreme Court Tackles a Key Product Labeling Issue

When marketers sit around dreaming up new products, they often find the quickest and least problematic path to getting something new on the market is simply to make small changes to existing products and call it new. For instance, a common technique is to extend a current product line by either adding a feature (e.g., new flavoring) or taking something away (e.g., remove ingredient that reduces calories). Marketers following this strategy may even retain the brand name that is associated with the product line so that the new product will be called Brand X’s New ABC product. In these cases, the name chosen and displayed on the packaging is usually descriptive of what is now contained or removed in this new product, such as Brand X’s New Chocolate-Flavored ABC product.

But, what if the change is relatively minimal? For instance, what if a marketer adds a very, very small amount of a new ingredient to a product, can they now promote the product with this as the new product name or is it misleading to do so?

Well, the U.S. Supreme Court is now hearing a case covering this issues, and their decision has the potential to change how marketers label products. As discussed in this Los Angeles Times story, the issue comes from a lawsuit filed by a relatively small juice-products manufacturer, POM Wonderful, against one of the world’s largest consumer-products companies, Coca-Cola. POM is claiming the labeling of one of Coke’s Minute Maid brand products is misleading because the product name is Pomegranate Blueberry Juice. However, the product’s ingredients clearly show that pomegranates and blueberries make up less than 1 percent of the juice, while apple or grape make up 99.4 percent.

POM claims that labeling the product with the name of ingredients that make up such a small part of the product is confusing and misleading to customers. As one might expect, the reason POM brought the lawsuit is because they have a competitive product with 100% pomegranate and blueberry juice. Of course, Coke takes a different stance saying, essentially, customers are smart enough to know what is contained in the products they buy.

While this may seem to be a straightforward case of one company suing another, the stakes are much higher than just these two companies. Thus, the reason why the Supreme Court has taken on this issue.