In an October 19 court filing in the case*, Trader Joes explained that the statement that its product 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.”
Our claims amount to, ‘at worse, mere puffery’
In fact, Trader Joes “does not make any health claims regarding the product,” insisted the retailer, adding that the labels simply state:
- 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+.
“Nowhere are there statements about health benefits,” added Trader Joe’s. “Nowhere are there statements about the superiority of the product over other non-alkaline products.
“Nowhere do the representations insinuate that the Product 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, it added: “Trader Joe’s makes no product representations about superior hydration. ‘Superior hydration’ itself has no discernable meaning. The statements are too vague to constitute discernable representations that are capable of objective verification…”
If there's no benefit, why sell it?
While this might appear somewhat disingenuous (if the elevated pH and vague references to ‘perfect balance’ don’t mean anything, why put them on the label, or indeed why sell alkaline water at all?), from a legal perspective, it’s hard to argue that they amount to anything more than ‘non-actionable puffery,’ according to attorneys we contacted after the case was filed this summer.
Wendel, Rosen, Black & Dean partner William Acevedo noted that Trader Joe’s had been pretty careful with its wording.
“The labeling simply says, ‘refresh and hydrate,’ which does not imply any claim of superiority, nor does this statement or a plus symbol alone necessarily suggest any express or implied health claims.”
As for ‘perfect balance,’ said Adam Fox, partner at Squire Patton Boggs, the phrase is so vague that it’s going to be hard to argue “deliberate intent to mislead consumers into believing in some unspecified health benefit,” he observed.
Lawsuit: Defendants do not have a single study to show that their water is ‘perfectly balanced’ or will provide added hydration compared to other water
In the lawsuit* filed in California in June, plaintiff Dana Weiss said alkaline water was effectively 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 branded water provide a superior benefit to a consumer.”
Weiss added: “[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 waters… [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.”
Does alkaline water provide any benefits?
Right now, the evidence that alkaline water confers a health benefit is "preliminary and nascent, and may be product or brand specific," Anthony Almada, president and CSO at 'nutritional tech' consultancy IMAGINutrition, told FoodNavigator-USA in July. "The evidence is suggestive at best.
"Each of these alkaline waters are chemically different, so you can't just quote studies on other brands [to support your claims]. But there is some evidence that alkaline water might inactive a digestive enzyme called pepsin which is suspected to be part of the problem with acid reflux, while there is also a theory that if you ionize water in a machine you create hydrogen gas, which, if it is retained in the bottle of water, may have effects that are independent of the pH of the water."
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 [an enzyme produced by the stomach that can be damaging if it refluxes into the oesophagus], rendering it permanently inactive. In addition, it has good acid-buffering capacity. Thus, the consumption of alkaline water may have therapeutic benefits for patients with reflux disease."
A 2017 study published in JAMA suggested that a 'wholly dietary approach' combining alkaline water and a 'plant-based, Mediterranean-style diet' could be as effective at treating Laryngopharyngeal reflux as proton pump inhibition, but the study design did not enable researchers to explore whether alkaline water had an effect independent of the diet, noted Almada.
A 2018 study in the American Journal of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Medicine and Surgery also showed that an anti-reflux program combining diet, alkaline water, medications, and behavioral modifications compared favorably with medication and behavioral modification alone for subjects with laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) symptoms - but again, did not isolate whether alkaline water alone conferred benefits.
- Click HERE to read what legal experts had to say about the case.
*The case is Weiss v Trader Joe’s Company 8:18-cv-01130, filed on June 25 in the central district of California by the Lindemann law firm.