A Case of Green Tea: Misleading Health Claims Place Canada Dry and Lipton Under FDA Scrutiny
Dr Pepper Snapple Group and Unilever face a PR crisis if they fail to address the warnings released against their green tea based products by the FDA.
The US Food and Drug Administration warned producers of two popular brands of green tea against misleading health claims on labels and promotional websites for their green tea products. In a warning letter issued Aug. 30, the FDA took issue with Dr Pepper Snapple Group which produces the popular Canada Dry Sparkling Green Tea Ginger Ale that bears the claim, “ENHANCED WITH 200 mg OF ANTIOXIDANTS FROM GREEN TEA & VITAMIN C**”. A week earlier the FDA issued a similar letter to Unilever Inc, maker of Lipton Green Tea.
The FDA “does not consider it appropriate to fortify snack foods such as carbonated beverages.” But this is not really the problem with Canada Dry. The product does not meet federal requirements to carry the claim that the drink is “enhanced with 200 mg of antioxidants from green tea and vitamin C” and its ingredients “are not nutrients with recognized antioxidant activity.”
In the warning letter addressed to Unilever, the FDA aimed at Lipton Green Tea 100% Naturally Decaffeinated which claimed that consumption of green tea reduces cholesterol and it is beneficial for people at risk of heart disease – a health claim that would make the Lipton green tea a drug.
The FDA gave both companies 15 days to respond to the citations with an outline of their plans for addressing the problems:
Please respond to this letter within 15 days from receipt with the actions you plan to take in response to this letter, including an explanation of each step being taken to correct the current violations and prevent similar violations. Include any documentation necessary to show that correction has been achieved. If you cannot complete corrective action within fifteen working days, state the reason for the delay and the time within which you will complete the correction.
15 days are not a too generous offer – this time-frame is not enough to address (and correct) all instances where misleading information appears on product labels, websites, advertisements, and so on. Although both companies already answered, expressing their willingness to correct the problems, the effect of FDA’s warning letters on the two brands is unfortunate. Both companies appear now as misleading and dishonest in their relationship with consumers. Media reports criticizing the two brands have already been published on high authority channels like Time Magazine blogs, The Associated Press and others. Both companies will now need to engage in a PR battle to counter the effects of negative media.