Misleading Claims on Fruit and Vegetable Beverages and Products

Providing accurate and easy to understand nutrition and ingredient labeling on processed food products is essential to addressing the growing problem of adult and child obesity in America.  One popular group of food products are the plethora of fruit and vegetable juice beverages and juice-containing snacks on the market. These so-called fruit and vegetable products often contain pictures of fruit and vegetables on the front and statements such as “made with real fruit” or “contains real fruit juice.”  Do these pictures and statements mislead consumers into thinking that the product contains more fruit and vegetables than is actually the case? Probably. And if so, why doesn’t the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do something?  Because, although the FDA has the power to stop deceptive fruit and vegetable product labeling claims, it has apparently declined to do so – except for fruit and vegetable beverages. Let’s consider the existing FDA authority.

General FDA Food Labeling Authority

 FDA regulations (at 21 C.F.R. §102.5) require manufacturers to “include the percentage(s) of any characterizing ingredient(s) or component(s) when the proportion of such ingredient(s) or component(s) in the food has a material bearing on price or consumer acceptance or when the labeling or the appearance of the food may otherwise create an erroneous impression that such ingredient(s) or component(s) is present in an amount greater than is actually the case.” This regulation certainly seems to give the FDA the generalized authority to stop misleading advertising and labeling on all food products.

 Specific FDA Fruit and Vegetable Beverage Requirements

 In addition to the general food authority, specific FDA requirements (at 21 C.F.R. §101.30) also govern any food that claims to be a beverage containing fruit or vegetable juice. These specific requirements apply when “the product’s advertising, label, or labeling bears the name of, or variation on the name of, or makes any direct or indirect representation with respect to any fruit or vegetable juice, or the label bears any depiction of a fruit or vegetable or other pictorial representation of any fruit or vegetable, or the product contains color and flavor that gives the beverage the appearance and taste of fruit or vegetable juice.” The specific FDA-required juice percentage declarations are as follows:

  • If the beverage contains fruit or vegetable juice, the percentage must be declared by the words “contains 50 percent [or other applicable percentage] fruit juice”.
  • If the beverage contains less than 1 percent juice, it must state “less than 1 percent juice”.
  • If the beverage contains 100 percent juice and also non-juice ingredients, it must state “100 percent juice with added [insert the name of the non-juice ingredient]”.

 Exemption for Beverages with “Minor” Amounts of Juice for “Flavoring”

However, if the beverage only contains minor amounts of juice for flavoring and is labeled with a flavor description using terms such as “flavor”, “flavored”, or “flavoring” with a fruit or vegetable name (e.g., “apple” or “tomato”) and does not bear: (1) the term “juice” on the label other than in the ingredient statement; or (2) an explicit vignette depicting the fruit or vegetable from which the flavor derives, such as juice exuding from a fruit or vegetable; or (3) specific physical resemblance to a juice or distinctive juice characteristic such as pulp then total percentage juice declaration is not required.

What if the Beverage Contains No Juice at All?

In addition, when the beverage does not meet the criteria for exemption from the total juice declaration and contains no fruit or vegetable juice at all, but the labeling or color and flavor of the beverage represents, suggests, or implies that fruit or vegetable juice may be present (e.g., the product advertising or labeling bears the name, a variation of the name, or a pictorial representation of any fruit or vegetable, or the product contains color and flavor that give the beverage the appearance and taste of containing a fruit or vegetable juice), then the label must specifically declare “contains 0 percent juice”.  

Where Must These Juice Beverage Declarations Appear?

If the beverage is sold in a package with an information panel (located on the right side of the package), the juice percentage declaration must be prominently displayed on this information panel and on the principal display panel (front of the package).  However, if the beverage is sold in a package that does not bear an information panel (this is usually the case on small single-serving size packages), the juice percentage declaration must be placed on the principal display panel near the name of the food.

Advice for Consumers

The bottom line for fruit and vegetable juice beverage shoppers is to read the label.  The specific percentage information should be on the principal display panel (front), on the information panel (right side), or on both.  If it isn’t, move on. 

For non-beverage products that claim to be “made with real fruit or vegetables” or to “contain real fruit or vegetable juice”, check the information panel on the side of the package to see if the manufacturer has voluntarily provided the specific percentage information.  If it hasn’t, again, consider moving on.  Remember, the FDA only requires specific fruit and vegetable juice percentage declaration requirements for fruit and vegetable beverages – not for the amount of juice and vegetable content in non-beverage products.

Another suggestion would be to simply head to the produce department of your supermarket and carefully examine the items you find there.  That  is what “real” fruit and vegetables look like.  Try those instead!