The phrase “Good for You!” can take on a variety of meanings, ranging from a statement of congratulations to a sarcastic dig, depending on the situation at play. A California district court judge likewise affirmed that context is king when evaluating the claim in a lawsuit involving Minute Maid juice boxes.
On October 28, 2023, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria upheld Coca-Cola's Minute Maid juice boxes' “Good for You!” claim as an implied “nutrient content claim” subject to full protection by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The judge, however, was less convinced by the boxes' “Part of a Healthy Balanced Diet” claim as satisfying FDA's standards for a nutrient content claim.
The order followed a March 2023 lawsuit, Reynolds v. The Coca-Cola Company (23-cv-1446), alleging that the abovementioned Minute Maid claims were purportedly “false or at least highly misleading because they convey that the juice boxes are healthy (beneficial to health) when in reality regularly consuming them is unhealthy since it increases risk of disease" in violation of California's consumer protection laws.
While steering clear of the debate over juice's healthfulness, the court found that Minute Maid's “Good for You!” claim complied with FDA regulations governing implied nutrient content claims, and therefore, the plaintiff's state law challenges were preempted by federal law. Under FDA regulations, “nutrient content claims” are statements that characterize the level of a nutrient in a food and can only be made if the food contains a specified level of a nutrient with an FDA-established daily value (e.g., “good source of calcium”).
Interestingly, the “Good for You!” claim made no reference at all to any particular nutrient. Nevertheless, the court held that the statement qualified as an implied nutrient content claim in light of the associated nutrient content claims that appeared directly below the statement namely, “Excellent source of Vitamin C” and “No Added Sugar.”
The concept of implied nutrient content claims is nothing new, as FDA regulates terms such as “healthy” as implied nutrient content claims under 21 C.F.R. 101.65. What is more novel, however, is that the court's analysis arguably expands the scope of an implied nutrient content claim by focusing less on the claim language itself, and more on the surrounding statements.
While FDA has long focused on certain “trigger words” as the source of an implied nutrient content claim (e.g., “healthy” or “high in oat bran”), the court in the Minute Maid case went further to hold that the related nutrient content claims about Vitamin C and sugar were enough to thrust the “Good for You!” statement into FDA-regulated territory—even if the claim, in isolation, may not be regulated as such.
While FDA-regulatory status of the claim served as a win for Coca-Cola on preemption grounds, this lawsuit serves as a cautionary tale for marketers of food and beverage products. Brands must continue to look at the overarching context of their claims when evaluating the potential FDA-regulatory implications. Simply swapping a word here or there may not be enough to avoid potential FDA regulation of the claim, at least in the eyes of the courts. Simply put, context is king when evaluating the regulatory and legal implications for food and beverage marketing claims.