Trader Joe’s Fights Back Against Lawsuit

Trader Joe's

In an Oct. 19, 2018, court filing, Trader Joe’s explained that the statement their alkaline water is “ionized to achieve the perfect balance” does not imply that it confers any health benefits.

“Nowhere on the label does Trader Joe’s represent that the product will have any particular effect on the body, stomach, or bloodstream superior to other bottled water.”

In fact, Trader Joe’s does not make any health claims regarding its alkaline bottled water. The label simply states:

  • Alkaline water + Electrolytes
  • Purified Water with Electrolytes for taste
  • Trader Joe’s Alkaline water + Electrolytes is purified through reverse osmosis, then ionized to achieve the perfect balance
  • Refresh and hydrate
  • Water + Electrolytes is ionized to pH 9.5+

Trader Joe’s stated that “nowhere are there statements about health benefits. Nowhere are there statements about the superiority of the product over other non-alkaline products.”

“Nowhere do the representations insinuate that the [Alkaline Water] has properties other than a pH of 9.5+, which is higher than ordinary bottled water products. With the exception of the statements regarding the pH level of the product, Trader Joe’s statements, even taken together with ‘hundreds of plus symbols’ are not objectively verifiable, and therefore amount to, at worst, mere puffery.”

As for hydration, Trader Joe’s stated that it makes no alkaline water representations about superior hydration. “Superior hydration” itself has no discernable meaning. “The statements are too vague to constitute discernable representation that are capable of objective verification…”

If the elevated pH and the vague references to “perfect balance” do not mean anything, why put them on the label? Why sell alkaline water at all? From a legal perspective, it is hard to argue that they amount to anything more than “non-actionable puffery,” according to attorneys contacted by Food Navigator.

Wendel, Rosen, Black & Dean partner William Acevedo noted that Trader Joe’s has been careful with its wording.

“The labeling simply says, ‘refresh and hydrate,’ which does not imply any claim of superiority, nor does this statement of a plus symbol alone necessarily suggest any express or implied health claims.”

Adam Fox, partner at Squire Patton Boggs, says as for “perfect balance,” the phrase is so vague that it is going to be hard to argue “deliberate intent to mislead consumers into believing in some unspecified heath benefit.”

In the lawsuit filed in California in June, plaintiff Dana Weiss said alkaline water was snake oil: “There is no genuine scientific research and there are no scientifically reliable studies in existence that support the extraordinary claims of Defendants, or that alkaline water provides a superior benefit to a consumer. [Trader Joe’s advertising and marketing] would lead the reasonable consumer to believe that Trader Joe’s Alkaline Water is a superior product to other water… [But] defendants do not have a single study to show that their water is ‘perfectly balanced’ or will provide added hydration compared to other water.”

Currently, the evidence that alkaline water confers a health benefit is a “preliminary and nascent, and may be product or brand specific. The evidence is suggestive at best,” according to Anthony Almada, the president and CSO at the nutritional tech consultancy IMAGINutrition.

Each of the alkaline waters are chemically different. Therefore, one cannot just quote studies about other brands to support any health claims. However, there is some evidence that alkaline water might make pepsin inactive, which is a digestive enzyme suspected to cause acid reflux. There is also a theory that ionizing water in a machine created hydrogen gas, which, if it is retained in the bottle of water, may have effects that are independent of the pH of the water.

In a 2012 study published in the Annals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology concluded that, “Unlike conventional drinking water, pH 8.8 alkaline water instantly denatures pepsin, rendering it permanently inactive. Additionally, it has the capacity to buffer acid. Therefore, the consumption of alkaline water may have therapeutic benefits for patients with reflux disease.

A study published in JAMA in 2017, learned that a “wholly dietary approach” combining alkaline water and a “plant-based, Mediterranean-style diet” could be as effective for treating Laryngopharyngeal reflux as proton pump inhibition. However, the study design did not enable researchers to explore whether alkaline water had an effect independent of the diet.

In 2018, a study was published in the American Journal of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Medicine and Surgery also showed that an anti-reflux program that combines diet, alkaline water, medications, and behavioral modifications compared favorably with medication and behavioral modification alone for subjects with laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) symptoms. Again, however, the study did not isolate whether alkaline water alone conferred benefits.

By Jeanette Smith


Food Navigator: Trader Joe’s defends alkaline water labels: We never claimed out product conferred any benefits…
Food Navigator: ‘No reliable scientific evidence’ supports Trader Joe’s alkaline water claims, alleges lawsuit.

Image Courtesy of K.G. Schneider's Flickr Page - Creative Commons License

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