Fruit drinks without fruit – that could be Starbucks’ downfall. Because some of the “Refresher” lemonades are missing the fruit that gives them their name, several customers in the USA are suing the coffee house chain for damages of five million dollars. Since the Mango Dragonfruit Lemonade is prepared without mango and the Pineapple Passionfruit Lemonade without passion fruit, the names are misleading, say the plaintiffs.
Instead of fruit, the “refresher” drinks are based on water, sugar and grape juice concentrate. As Forbes reports, the plaintiffs believe they paid "a premium price" because they trusted the drinks contained what they were named after. A woman named Joan Kominis said she wouldn't have bought the soft drink or paid less if she had known it was only partially based on real fruit.
The sodas cost $3.95 to $5.95 depending on size. The lawsuit has been ongoing since August last year. As the news agency "Reuters" writes, Starbucks tried to avert the majority of the lawsuits. The company explained that the product names described the flavors of the drinks, not their ingredients, and that those exact flavors were advertised on the menus. In addition, if customers had questions, the baristas could have explained the details.
U.S. District Judge John Cronan in Manhattan rejected the coffeehouse chain's appeal. Unlike “vanilla,” for example, names of different types of fruit are not considered terms that simply denote an aroma or flavor. If a drink is named after a fruit, "a significant portion of consumers" would expect the fruit to be included. Other Starbucks products, like the Matcha Tea Latte and Honey Citrus Mint Tea, are actually named after their ingredients. This could cause confusion, said the judge.
He nevertheless rejected two of the eleven lawsuits: against unjust enrichment and against fraud, because Starbucks had no intention of defrauding customers. The other lawsuits that accuse the group of violating consumer protection law remain. Starbucks called the allegations "inaccurate and baseless" and said it looked forward to defending itself, according to Reuters.
The common practice in the USA of replacing ingredients with flavorings has often led to legal disputes. Louis Tompros, a lecturer at Harvard Law School, told Forbes that these cases sometimes keep advertisers honest and "serve an important purpose." Sometimes the lawsuits could also be opportunistic.
Sources: Forbes, Reuters, Tagesschau