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Sunday, June 23, 2024 | Back issues
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‘Honest Tea’ Label Comes Back to Haunt

SACRAMENTO (CN) - Honest Tea cannot escape class action claims that it dishonestly markets its Honey Green Tea with unauthorized claims about its antioxidant content, a federal judge ruled.

Lead plaintiff Sarah Salazar sued the Coca-Cola-owned company in November 2013, saying the tea does not contain the amount of "antioxidants green tea flavonoids" touted on the label.

Her first amended complaint in June 2014 claimed Honey Green Tea is misbranded because its claims for antioxidant green tea flavonoids do not meet minimum regulatory requirements for such claims.

Honest Tea is an intentional pun on the word "honesty" intended to reinforce the company's claims that it uses "honesty and integrity" to craft its products, Salazar says.

"While Honest Tea encourages consumers to trust them by constantly citing 'honesty' in its name, and in its marketing materials, Honest Tea's advertising claims about its honesty are false and misleading. Honest Tea is aware of false and misleading statements on its label that characterize the antioxidant content and the amount of antioxidants in Honey Green Tea in violation of California and federal law," Salazar says.

Honest Tea has capitalized on consumer interest in antioxidants and has sold hundreds of thousands of bottles of Honey Green Tea because of its claims about the "many tea antioxidants" and "flavonoid[s]" in the product, the complaint states.

Salazar says the company has made unauthorized antioxidant nutrient content claims on Honey Green Tea's label since 2008. She says she would not have bought it had she known that claims on the label were inaccurate.

"Instead, she would have paid much less for tea leaves or a tea bag of green tea," the complaint states.

U.S. District Judge Mueller on Thursday rejected Honest Tea's argument that Salazar did not rely on the nutrient content claims when she bought the tea in 2012 and 2013.

Although Salazar did not purchase a Honey Green Tea product bearing the 2008 label, nor has she claimed to have seen the 2008 label, she sufficiently alleged that the products she purchased were substantially similar to the 2008 product, Mueller found.

Furthermore, Honest Tea cannot argue that Salazar's claims fail because she admitted during a deposition that she was unfamiliar with the relevant Food and Drug Administration regulations when she bought the tea.

"Alleging that a plaintiff had certain expectations about a product based on familiarity with the FDA regulations is one way to explain how statements mislead consumers, but it is not the only way," Mueller wrote.

The judge cited Salazar's testimony that the wording of the antioxidant statements on the label created expectations in her mind that were not met, including the idea that drinking the tea was the best way to get antioxidants.

Whether a consumer would be deceived by Honest Tea's statements should be determined by a jury, Mueller said.

"The evidence obtained in discovery could show that the statements 'many' antioxidants, 'key' antioxidant, and 'packed' with antioxidants lead reasonable consumers to believe, as the complaint alleges, that Honey Green Tea is one of the best ways to incorporate antioxidants into the daily diet," Muller said. He denied the company's motion for summary judgment.

Honest Tea and Salazar's attorneys did not immediately return requests for comment sent by email Sunday night.

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