Another food fight in the courtroom has been halted, at least temporarily, by a judge's preliminary approval of a settlement agreement in several class actions.  This time the product is Vitaminwater, from the Coca-Cola company.

Via the magic of marketing, Vitaminwater looks like a healthy alternative to sugary sodas such as that other famous Coca-Cola product, Coke.  After all, two essential ingredients of health, "vitamins" and "water" are its very name. Vitaminwater comes in a rainbow of colors and 18 flavors that perpetrate this healthy image, with names like "Defense – Raspberry-Apple (Vitamin C + Zinc),"  "Rescue – Green Tea (Vitamin C + EGCG)" and "Endurance – Peach-Mango (Vitamin E + Ribose)."  The labels tout it as a “nutrient enhanced water beverage" and include the catchy phrase “vitamins + water = all you need." The black and white, non-frills labels, devoid of images, suggest a prescription label.  

But there is more in Vitaminwater than vitamins and water. Specifically, a good bit of sugar.  According to the label, each 20 oz. bottle of Vitaminwater contains 2.5 8 oz. servings. There are 13 grams of sugar and 50 calories in one serving, so a whole bottle contains 33 grams of sugar and 125 calories. (This is for the "B-relaxed jackfruit-guava" flavor.) By way of comparison, a 12 oz. regular Coke contains 39 grams of sugar and 125 calories.  A 20 oz. container of Coke would be 64 grams of sugar and 240 calories. But they're not labeling that Coke "Vitaminwater" either.  And what about the fruit juice in those fruity-sounding flavors?  Slim to none.  

Are there any actual vitamins?  Yes. According to this analysis, one flavor contained, per serving, the following percentages of the recommended daily allowance for Vitamin C (40%), Vitamin B3 (20%), Vitamin B 12 (20%), and Vitamin B5 (20%). Of course, most people don't need supplementation of their diet with vitamins. Even if they do, a much more reliable method would be to get the RDA in a vitamin supplement.  And cheaper too.  Vitaminwater costs about $1.70 a bottle. 

In sum, Vitaminwater would be more appropriately called "Sugarwater." But that wouldn't sell to the health-conscious consumer.  Vitaminwater has other, artificially-sweetened vitamin + water products too, but you don't need those either. 

None of this has escaped a the eagle eyes of the plaintiffs' bar.  Settlement of several class actions alleging consumer fraud, consolidated from Florida, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio and the Virgin Islands, recently received preliminary approval by a federal district judge.  These lawsuits were brought against Glaceau "Energy Brands," the maker of Vitaminwater, which is owned by Coca-Cola, also named as a defendant. The plaintiffs estimate that sales are a half-billion dollars annually and that millions of consumers have purchased the product. 

What about the fact that the amount of sugar is right there on the label?  The plaintiffs are undeterred:

Defendants’ misrepresentations about Vitaminwater – including its dietary supplement name and outrageous health promises – bombard consumers with a message that the heavily fortified, sugar-sweetened product is healthy and explicitly suggest that the product is only “vitamins + water” when, in fact, it is fortified sugar water that contributes to weight gain, diabetes, and obesity.

I guess they are saying the consumers are so bombarded they can't read.

In the settlement, the defendants, while denying liability (as is typical in these cases), agreed to injunctive relief, consisting in the main of ceasing to label and market its product with meaningless blather like:

specially fortified with nutrients required for optimal functioning of the immune system, and the generation and utilizaiton of energy from food to support immune system and other metabolic activities. 

But the plaintiffs may find the settlement hard to swallow.  There is no individual monetary award for them, even though the settlement covers millions of consumers, going all the way back to purchases made in 2003.  Not even a coupon. The attorneys, of course, do get fees and costs.  Disgruntled plaintiffs may show up at the final hearing on settlement approval in November and object to the settlement's terms, in which case the court might well refuse final approval. At that point, it's back to the settlement drawing board and the possibility that the defendants will have to cough up some cash to sweeten the deal.