Nestle Sued for Falsely Advertising Poland Spring Water

June 19, 2003
Suit Claims Company Uses Heavily Treated Groundwater; Nestle Denies 'Misleading' Accusations

In a class-action lawsuit filed, consumers claim that Nestle Waters North America (Nestle), a subsidiary of Nestle S.A., falsely advertises its top-selling Poland Spring brand bottled water.

In a class-action lawsuit filed, consumers claim that Nestle Waters North America (Nestle), a subsidiary of Nestle S.A., falsely advertises its top-selling Poland Spring brand bottled water. The suit alleges Nestle uses heavily treated water taken from common ground water sources when bottling Poland Spring, but then labels the bottles as spring water and charges consumers a premium price for supposedly higher quality water.

Filed in Connecticut Superior Court, the suit argues that Nestle's claims of Poland Spring as "found deep in the woods of Maine" and "exceptionally well protected by nature" intentionally deceives customers about the true nature of the sources, most of which are surrounded by asphalt parking lots or potentially dangerous contamination. Similar suits were also filed in New Jersey Superior Court and Massachusetts Superior Court.

The suit also alleges Nestle falsely advertises Poland Spring as "naturally purified" or "spring water" since the water does not meet the scientific definition for spring water. Spring water is defined as water obtained from an underground source that flows naturally to the surface or would flow naturally to the surface if it were not collected underground.

"We believe this is nothing more than a bottled-water bait and switch," said Tom Sobol, the attorney representing consumers. "Consumers purchase Poland Spring thinking they getting a higher quality natural spring water, but our suit will show that Poland Spring is neither natural nor spring water, and in fact comes from sources of a lesser quality than some tap water."

In a marketing campaign designed to encourage customers to pay a premium price, Nestle describes Poland Spring "found deep in the woods of Maine, Poland Spring natural spring water is exceptionally well protected by nature. For more than 150 years, people have appreciated its distinctive, clean, crisp taste." Other marketing materials refer to Poland Spring as "natural spring water" taken from "pristine sources," according to the complaint.

Poland Springs issued a statement denying any of these accusations. "We are appalled by the false and misleading allegations contained in the legal actions filed. We want to assure our customers that Poland Spring Brand Natural Spring Water is pure natural spring water with an excellent track record for quality. Every bottle of Poland Spring Brand Natural Spring Water clearly identifies the location of its sources in Maine. Poland Spring Brand Natural Spring Water is regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and meets all federal and state regulations governing product quality and labeling, spring water collection, and manufacturing practices."

The original Poland Spring, once the site of a small bottling company, has not flowed since 1967, according to the complaint. The actual sources of Poland Spring water, located up to 30 miles away from the original Poland Spring, depend on man-made production wells drawing more than six million gallons of water a year, none of which is drawn from the original Poland Spring, the complaint states.

The suit states that as Nestle expanded production of Poland Spring water, the company began digging supply wells and using nearby groundwater, much of which had high potential for contamination.

One of Poland Spring's sources, Garden Spring, taps into a common aquifer underneath a gravel pit eight miles away from the site of Poland Spring. According to the complaint, the well is not located deep in the woods of Maine as Nestle advertises, but in a parking lot along the side of a road used by hundreds of trucks and cars daily.

According to the complaint, hydro-geologists hired by Nestle found that another current source for Poland Spring water near the original site stands over a former trash and refuse dump, and below an illegal disposal site where human sewage was sprayed as fertilizer for many years. The suit argues similar contamination problems were found with other sources of Poland Spring.

After Nestle dramatically increased Poland Spring production during the mid to late 1990s, consumers filed a rash of complaints against Poland Spring water, which Massachusetts and Rhode Island regulators determined was due to bacterial contamination, the complaint states.

Nestle now subjects all water bottled at the Poland Spring plant to an extensive treatment program including ozonation, carbon tower filtration and UV light treatment.

The suit seeks to ban Nestle from promoting or advertising products as "spring water" if they do not meet scientific definitions, and a restitution amount to the general public.

Poland Springs' statement concluded that "All of us at Poland Spring have worked very hard to ensure the quality of our product and earn our customers' trust. On behalf of our customers and employees, we intend to vigorously defend ourselves against the charges in this suit."

Source: Hagens Berman and Poland Spring Water

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