The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued two warning letters last month to beverage makers with green tea marketing claims. Dr. Pepper Snapple Group was cited for antioxidant label claims pertaining to its Canada Dry Sparkling Green Tea Ginger Ale that the FDA deemed inappropriate for a carbonated beverage classified as snack food. In a similar move a week earlier, FDA found Unilever, owner of the Lipton Green Tea brand, in breach of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act for misleading website copy that promotes four studies demonstrating a reduction in cholesterol from green tea flavonoids. FDA found these as cause to classify the product as a drug, and the disease claims as therefore unsubstantiated by science.
NBJ bottom line: Welcome to the new FDA, a beast with sharper teeth and a bigger appetite than the regulatory agency of the past. With so many bottled green tea products in the marketplace—many making much more aggressive health claims about cancer and aging—the targets of this warning volley are notable mostly for their size. These are big companies. Warning letters to big companies make big statements about the sharper lines being drawn by FDA around acceptable marketing practice in the nutrition industry.
NBJ measured the functional beverage market in 2009 at $21.6 billion in sales, so any regulatory shift in claims behavior could have a material effect on industry. Stay tuned. Perhaps the folks at FDA are, in fact, watching the folks at EFSA closer than we might think.