NEW YORK, August 9 (Reuters) - Popular coconut water drinks are the latest target of class action lawsuits claiming the products don't deliver on their nutritional or health claims.
Two lawsuits, filed on Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court, accuse Vita Coco and One World Enterprises of overstating the amount of electrolytes in their beverages and exaggerating their hydrating benefits.
The lawsuits, brought by Kevin Shenkman on behalf of coconut water consumers, were spurred by a new study by ConsumerLab.com that tested the contents of three brands of coconut water: Vita Coco, O.N.E. and Zico. Only one of the drinks, Zico, delivered on its nutritional claims in the study. The other two had "far fewer" electrolytes than claimed, according to the report issued last week, with considerably less sodium and magnesium than the amounts listed on their nutrition labels.
Edwin Aiwazian, a lawyer who represents Shenkman in both suits, said his client is an avid runner who turned to coconut water for its purported "super-hydrating" attributes. When Shenkman learned of the ConsumerLab.com study, he was "disheartened" and decided to take legal action, Aiwazian said.
The suits accuse the makers of Vita Coco and O.N.E. Coconut Water of deceiving consumers by concealing the drinks' true nutrient levels. They say claims about the products' superior hydration benefits amount to fraud and false advertising. Each suit seeks unspecified damages, a corrective advertising campaign as well as an apology to members of the plaintiff class.
Michael Kirban, the founder and CEO of Vita Coco, said the company is investigating and questioning the accuracy of the ConsumerLab.com results. Because Vita Coco is a natural juice, the nutrient content can deviate slightly from the label. But the company tests multiple batches of the product every month and has never encountered variance greater than 15 percent, which falls within the Food and Drug Administration's 20 percent allowance, he said.
Kirban did note that the study raised a "big red flag internally" and that the company is considering adding a disclaimer to its packaging that amounts of nutrients may differ slightly from the label.
One World Enterprises did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Shenkman, himself a lawyer, has also filed a proposed class action against fast-food restaurant Panda Express for allegedly adding chicken powder to its vegetarian dishes. The same attorneys represent him in that case.
The coconut water cases in Los Angeles Superior Court are Shenkman v. All Market Inc et al, No. BC467166 and Shenkman v. One World Enterprises LLC, No. BC467165.
For Shenkman: Edwin Aiwazian of The Aiwazian Law Firm; R. Rex Parris and Alexander Wheeler of the R. Rex Parris Law Firm.
For All Market Inc d/b/a Vita Coco: Not immediately available.
For One World Enterprises: Not immediately available.
(Reporting by Terry Baynes)