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FTC says POM Wonderful may not be that wonderful

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TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: It used to be enough that food just tasted good. Now, it's got to stop you from aging, keep you from getting fat and help you stave off cancer in the bargain. Or at least that's what marketers would have us believe -- and believe we do. Grocery store shelves are full of healthy-this and antioxidant-that. But the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration have been cracking down on those health claims. The latest is POM Wonderful, the pomegranate juice that comes in those funny-looking bottles.

Marketplace's Eve Troeh reports.


Eve Troeh: POM is known for cheeky ads, like one that shows its juice bottle with a noose around the neck. The tagline: "Cheat Death."

The Federal Trade Commission says POM is the one that's cheating. It says the company's claims that its juice helps prevent prostate cancer, heart disease and other problems amount to false advertising.

Carrie LaFerle: We all want to buy the brand that has the most bang for its buck, and we're gonna buy the one we think is loaded with the most health-oriented things.

Carrie LaFerle teaches advertising at Southern Methodist University. She says consumers could turn on POM.

LaFerle: People don't want to be lied to, and so I think when they find out, if they have been lied to, it won't go well for the brand.

POM pretty much owns the pomegranate juice market in the U.S. The company's sales were about $91 million last year. POM sued the FTC earlier this month, anticipating the crackdown on its ads. A statement on its web site says the company aims to communicate "the promising science relating to pomegranates" -- promising science that the company paid for.

Bruce Silverglade at the Center for Science in the Public Interest says POM's studies are lacking.

Bruce Silverglade: Must have a large enough sample, you need to have a control group to compare your results to. POM didn't do that.

But Silverglade says POM isn't likely to bow down.

Silverglade: I think it's cheaper for them to fight the suit than to give up the claims that have duped millions of consumers into paying hundreds of millions of dollars for their product.

If the FTC wins, POM could have to pay millions in damages to those consumers.

I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.

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