Cali consumer says health benefit claims and pH levels are out of whack

Basic Error?

Alkaline diets have become incredibly popular of late, and alkaline (or ionized) water is a big part of that trend, which makes sense. In a more-or-less busy modern life, consumers who do not have the time to plan and execute an alkaline diet can grab a bottle of alkaline water and get a taste of the same purported benefits.

Alkaline diets and related products like ionized water trade on the notion that consuming the right foods helps balance acid levels, leading to a multitude of health benefits, including cancer and heart disease prevention. But while the products are luxury items – some in-home water ionizers cost upward of $3,000 – there’s plenty of shade being cast on health claims made by manufacturers and producers of alkaline diet products.

Out of Balance

Enter Dana Weiss, a California consumer who is not happy with the claims made by alkaline water producers – specifically, iconic grocery store Trader Joe’s, which sells its own “Alkaline Water + Electrolytes” bottled water product. Weiss filed a class action complaint in the Central District of California in June 2018, taking issue with what she claims are false representations on the product label, including the tag “ionized to achieve the perfect balance” and “hundreds of plus symbols on the packaging next to [the] statement ‘refresh and hydrate’ connoting non-existent health benefits.”

Trader Joe’s “balance” claim, she argues, is unsupported by any reliable scientific evidence suggesting that ingesting the alkaline water would provide any substantial health benefits over those of regular bottled water. Weiss also claims that Trader Joe’s is misrepresenting the pH level of the water itself. Additionally, Weiss claims that enjoining Trader Joe’s from making the claims would reduce market demand and the price of the alkaline water product, which she argues are “artificially and fraudulently inflated” due to Trader Joe’s use of the allegedly deceptive label.

Weiss charges Trader Joe’s with breach of express warranty, unjust enrichment, violation of various state consumer protection acts, and violation of the California Unfair Competition Law and California’s false advertising law.

The Takeaway

Weiss’ suit illustrates how health claims, such as those referring to the alkalinity and benefits of a bottled water product in this case, continue to remain on the radar of regulators and are still ripe for class action lawsuits.

Although Weiss claims that the product label contains tags that are “not just puffery, but … instead deceptive and … therefore actionable,” the court could find that Trader Joe’s ad claims are fairly conservative and potentially noncontroversial (claiming that water “refreshes and hydrates,” for example, is not out of character for water product marketing). We’ll have to wait and see how it all washes out.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.