Atlanta-based Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association, a trade group, are being sued in a U.S. court for allegedly misleading consumers about the true health effects of sugary drinks.
A non-profit organization – The Praxis Project accused the beverage giant and the trade group of downplaying the risk of soft drinks on health in order to grow sales, despite evidence from the scientific community linking sugary drinks to obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The lawsuit is seeking to stop Coca-Cola from deceptive advertising of sugary drinks, particularly to children, and for the disclosure of documents related to their impact on health.
Praxis Project compared the practices of Coke to that of the tobacco industry in the United States from the 1950s to the 1990s, when they engaged in an elaborate campaign of disinformation to mislead consumers on the science linking cigarette smoking and lung cancer, among other diseases.
“Like the tobacco industry, Coca-Cola needs to replenish the ranks of its customers, and it tries to recruit them young,” Praxis said in its complaint.
A Coca-Cola spokesperson Kent Landers called the lawsuit “legally and factually meritless. We take our consumers and their health very seriously and have been on a journey to become a more credible and helpful partner in helping consumers manage their sugar consumption,” he said.
The American Beverage Association called the lawsuit’s accusations “unfounded.” It also said that, together with its members, it is working with health groups to reduce consumers’ caloric and sugar intake from beverages.
Coca-Cola and its nearest rival, PepsiCo have pledged to reduce calories in their beverages and increase healthier options.
The companies are responding to both new regulations and consumer demands as drinkers’ worldwide turn away from sweetened beverages to healthier alternatives.
For its part, Coca-Cola has been diversifying its product portfolio, moving into segments such as ready-to-drink coffee and tea, fruit juices, plant-based protein drinks, cold-press juices and dairy. In October last year, Coca-Cola Chief Operating Officer and heir apparent, James Quincey, said that Coke has more than 200 “reformulation initiatives” in the works to reduce sugar, including new versions of Fanta and Sprite already being marketed in the U.K.
PepsiCo also set an ambitious target in October when it announced that at least two-thirds of its beverage volume will contain no more than 100 calories from added sugars per 12-ouncce serving by 2025.