A Chicago company has sued Nestlé over claims that 5-gallon water jugs it bought for its office dispensers were advertised as spring water when in fact they were filled with tap water.
The case, Chicago Faucet Shoppe Inc. vs. Nestlé Waters North America Inc. claims that Nestle falsely represented 5-gallon bottles of Ice Mountain water that the company bought for its offices. The class action lawsuit, filed on behalf of consumers in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Missouri who bought Ice Mountain brand water in the 5-gallon bottles, says the bottles were labeled and promoted as if they were filled with 100 percent natural, spring-sourced water with a full suite of naturally occurring minerals.
The complaint said that Nestlé has a plethora of marketing materials, on the sides of delivery trucks, on its website and in print ads, that tout the water as spring-sourced. One ad leads with the title “Born Better.” Information on the brand website goes on to describe the provenance of the water coming from ancient glaciers, percolating through mineral-rich glacial gravel deposits. “In some places this ground water rises up to the surface and creates a natural spring,” the website reads. “Today, a few select springs have been chosen for our crisp, fresh tasting Ice Mountain Brand 100% Natural Spring Water.”
“Each spring has a ‘unique taste fingerprint’ defined by its natural mineral composition," the website states.
The website lists a number of spring locations in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Maine and Tennessee. The website, though labeled Natural Spring Water at the top, does say ‘drinking water’ sources may be either a well or a municipal source.
Discrepancy discovered only in July 2012
Chicago Faucet contracted with Nestlé in 2008 to start delivering the 5-gallon bottles to its Chicago office for use in its water dispensers. It wasn’t until July 2012, the complaint says, when a company official arranged for delivery to her residence, that she was told by a Nestlé employee that the bottles were filled with tap water.
The complaint acknowledges that there are many brands of bottled water on the market that do not make a spring water claim and are assumed to be repackaged tap water. These sell for far less than actual spring water.
Nestlé Waters is the largest bottled water company in the United States, the complaint says. Nestlé Waters had a 36.4% share of the U.S. market in 2010, with sales of $4.3 billion.
Nestlé Waters has been successfully sued over allegations of false water labeling in the past. A suit filed in Connecticut in 2003 claimed that the company said its Poland Spring brand of water came from a underground spring source when in fact it came from a well surrounded by parking lots. That suit was reportedly settled for $10 million in the form of discounts and charitable contributions.
The suit seeks attorneys fees and litigation costs, punitive damages and recovery from Nestlé Waters for the class, estimated to number at least in the hundreds, of the excess profits Nestle amassed by selling bottled tap water at a higher spring water price.
Nestlé Waters company officials were not immediately available for comment.