Lawsuit accusing Coca-Cola and ABA of 'deceptive' marketing could fizz over into other products

Dive Brief:

  • A new lawsuit claims Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association deceived consumers about the safety of sugary beverages, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which filed the complaint in California federal court on behalf of the nonprofit Praxis Project.
  • Coca-Cola and ABA are accused in the complaint of perpetrating a misleading and unlawful campaign that confused consumers about the science that links sugary beverage consumption with obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
  • The complaint says that Coca-Cola and ABA denied the science that supported concerns about high sugar consumption and instead shifted focus to exercise as the primary cause of the country's obesity epidemic.

Dive Insight:

This lawsuit could potentially shake the soda industry to its core even than other campaigns against sugary beverages, from marketing restrictions to soda taxes. Praxis compared Coca-Cola and ABA's efforts to those of the tobacco industry decades ago, depicting an elaborate campaign that includes claims that "Coke covertly funded and publicized biased scientific research, substantially orchestrated a drumbeat of deceptive ABA press releases on science and health, and ran false and misleading advertising campaigns," according to CSPI.

If this lawsuit is as successful for the plaintiffs as the 1999 lawsuit the U.S. Department of Justice filed against several major tobacco companies over decades of deceptive marketing practices, sugary beverage sales could take an even bigger hit in the years to come as litigation plays out. While the tobacco industry hasn't dissolved, its sales continue to either flatline or decline, falling from 42.4% of U.S. adults who smoked in 1965 to 16.8% in 2014, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But aside from consumer opinion of sugary beverages, which has rapidly deteriorated in recent years, the results of this lawsuit could inspire other major changes. These could include new or expanded policy regarding sugary drinks, like more strictly regulated marketing messages, mandated warning labels or more soda taxes.

Further, this lawsuit could set a precedent for food and beverage marketing going forward, especially for processed foods and other products most deem unhealthy. That could include everything from products that use artificial ingredients and preservatives to other products high in sugar or salt, such as confections or salty snacks.

Filed Under: Corporate Policy Marketing Beverages
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