Court finds pomegranate juice is not so super

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Pomegranate

California-based pomegranate maker Purely Juice has been ordered to pay market leader, Pom Wonderful, $1.5m for making false and misleading claims about the purity of its juices.

Purely Juice's claim that its productwas "100% pomegranate juice"​ was found to be misleading by a US Federal District Court in Los Angeles.

The Court found, after testing that included Purely Juice's own analysis, that the juice "consists primarily of cane sugar and corn sweetener, and contains little pomegranate solids."

It also found fault with Purely Juice claiming its pomegranate product contained "NO added sugar or sweeteners"​.

The ruling

The 27-page ruling also made note of the fact Purely Juice relied on a broker to source its pomegranates from overseas and that there were known adulteration issues from foreign sources the company should have been aware of.

It found Purely Juice's product which contained additional ingredients such as sweeteners, could effect the nutritional profile of the product and therefore compromise the health benefits that had only been clinically demonstrated for the whole fruit.

Purely Juice had not recalled any product since its own testing revealed the adulteration, a revelation that had led it to blaming its own supplier and threatening legal action against it.

"Purely Juice markets itself as a lower priced option to plaintiff,"​ the Court verdict stated. "Purely Juice would have lost most or all of its market share had they not misrepresented the content of its juice."

Pom Wonderful president Matt Tupper commented: "Seven independent labs confirmed that Purely Juice was adulterated with added sugar, added color and filler juices."

To see the District Court ruling click here.

Supply strain

Pom Wonderful, which turned over about $165m in 2007, has noted the delicacy of a supply chain struggling to meet rising demand in the US and abroad.

While Pom Wonderful sources only from its own, clinically-backed, Californian-grown, Pom variety trees, the booming demand for pomegranate juice has led to companies entering into ad hoc arrangements that have raised questions about the quality of supply.

"Healthy competition is one thing, but they lied,"​ said Pom Wonderful owner, Lynda Resnick. "In 2002, when we first started marketing pomegranate juice for the first time only 4 percent of the U.S. population had tasted it. Now there are 950 products that claim to contain pomegranates. There aren't enough pomegranate groves on the planet to supply the products in the marketplace."

Tupper noted the presence of "sugar, colorants, and cheap filler juices" ​was becoming more common in products marketed as "100% pomegranate juice".

He added: "Unfortunately, this is not a problem unique to pomegranate juice; adulteration of orange, apple, and cranberry juice has occurred for decades as unscrupulous suppliers attempt to add to their economic bottom line by cheating consumers of real ingredients."

Although Purely Juice could not be contacted before publication, chief executive officer, Paul Hachigian was quoted in press reports blaming the company's supplier, Perma Pom.

The problem was due to "a supply chain issue"​ Hachigian said, noting his company was considering legal action against the supplier.

"We were buying 100 percent concentrate,"​ he said. "That was part of the spec and the formula. There was never any intent to falsely advertise. It was one production period. We had no idea it occurred. We stopped shipping the product and started shipping an all new product."

Total non-recall

But the court noted there had been no product recall.

Resnick said Pom Wonderful had asked Purely Juice to stop advertising the product as "100 percent pomegranate"​ after it viewed a chemical analysis of the product.

When Purely Juice continued to sell the product, it took the court action.

"We hope this ruling serves as a wake-up call for all pomegranate juice producers to ensure their labels communicate clearly the origin and actual ingredients of their products,"​ said Tupper.

Pomegranate juice has ridden the wave of interest in superfruits such as goji and acai - most of which are marketed on their boosted antioxidant levels.

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