Updated: 2:53 p.m.
The Federal Trade Commission has filed an administrative complaint against POM Wonderful LLC, alleging that the juice maker violated federal law by making deceptive disease prevention and treatment claims.
The complaint, which was filed today, names as defendants POM Wonderful and its parent company, Roll International Corp. Also named are Stewart Resnick, chairman of POM; Lynda Resnick, co-director of Roll; and Matthew Tupper, president and chief operating officer of POM.
At issue in the FTC’s complaint are POM’s advertisements that showed the company’s signature bulb-shaped bottle making such health claims as, “Drink to prostate health,” “I’m off to save prostates,” and that the millions the company has spent on medical research has found that the company’s pomegranate juice offers “improved heart and prostate health and better erectile function.”
The FTC’s complaint says that in fact, clinical studies, research and trials do not prove that drinking POM juice or taking the company’s pills and extract treats heart disease, prostate cancer or erectile function.
According to the FTC, advertisements have run in publications such as Parade, Fitness, The New York Times and Prevention magazines; on Internet sites such as pomtruth.com, pomwonderful.com and pompills.com; on bus stops and billboards; in newsletters to customers; and on tags attached to the product. POM Wonderful pomegranate juice is sold at grocery stores nationwide, and a 16 oz. bottle retails for approximately $3.99. The company’s POMx pills and liquid extract are sold via direct mail, with a one-month supply costing approximately $30.
According to the complaint, the FTC has scheduled a hearing before an administrative law judge for May 24, 2011, during which POM will have the right to show cause as to why it should not be ordered to cease and desist from making the allegedly false health claims.
POM has been sued by Hogan Lovells for allegedly failing to pay more than $666,000 in legal fees and expenses. According to court records filed in D.C. Superior Court, POM hired Hogan to represent it in an administrative proceeding before the FTC. POM has since hired Covington & Burling to represent it on the FTC matter. John Graubert, a Covington partner representing POM and a former principal deputy general counsel and acting general counsel at the FTC, referred requests for comment back to POM. A POM spokesman did not immediately return calls for comment.
When The National Law Journal obtained records that identified the name of the agency investigating POM, the company filed suit against the newspaper and obtained a temporary restraining order, barring it from publishing the name of the agency. A week after a judge issued the order, POM voluntarily asked that it be dropped. At the time, the NLJ — backed by an amicus brief joined by The Washington Post, The New York Times and other media outlets — had asked the D.C. Court of Appeals to overturn Judge Judith Bartnoff's ruling
Barry Coburn, who is representing POM in the Hogan suit, declined to comment. Coburn is also representing POM in a suit against the FTC that alleges the agency's rules on deceptive advertising violate the company’s free speech rights.
Update: In a statement this afternoon, POM spokesman Rob Six said that the company "fundamentally disagrees with the FTC and believes that the commission’s allegations against POM are completely unwarranted." Six added,"We stand behind the vast body of scientific research documenting the healthy properties of Wonderful variety pomegranate. Our research is unprecedented among food and beverage companies, and we take pride in having initiated a program of modern scientific research to investigate the health benefits of this ancient and revered fruit."