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Michael Hiltzik: Pom not-so-Wonderful?

October 5, 2010 |  3:31 pm

Making health claims for pharmaceuticals is tricky enough despite the years of clinical tests that precede drug approvals, as one can tell from cases in which drugs have been taken off the market for ineffectiveness or dangerous side effects -- Vioxx and fen-phen. What about health claims for foods, which don't get tested?

As my Wednesday column reports, Pom Wonderful makes extravagant claims for its pomegranate juice, based on more than $30 million in Pom-financed scientific research that finds ... well, some "intriguing" positive effects from drinking the stuff. Is this the same as documenting those positive effects? The FDA and FTC say no, and given the undeniable marketing skills of Pom Queen Lynda Resnick, the average consumer might be well-advised to examine those claims very closely.

The column begins below.

Let no one state that Lynda Resnick shouldn’t be proud of the marketing skills she mustered to turn her pomegranate juice into a household name. 

In her 2009 memoir, she describes in detail her campaign to “create a market” for a product that only a small fraction of Americans were even aware of. The Beverly Hills business owner, art collector and philanthropist even pays homage to the red baseball-shaped fruit in the title of her book, “Rubies in the Orchard.”

Here’s the money quote: “People needed pomegranate juice in their lives (even if they didn’t know it yet), and I knew they would pay what it was worth.”

The result is Pom Wonderful, the juice packaged in distinctively curvaceous bottles, which sells at your local supermarket for as much as five to six times per ounce as garden-variety cranberry juice. Privately held Pom doesn’t release financial figures, but marketing surveys put the firm’s sales in the neighborhood of $100 million.

Given the personal commitment of Lynda Resnick to this product, it’s not surprising that the people at her company are outraged that the Federal Trade Commission and Food and Drug Administration have accused them of hyping the health benefits of Pom juice as though they’re just a gang of cheap hucksters.

Read the whole column.

-- Michael Hiltzik