The "POM" Pomegranate Scam: The Truth Behind the Company and Its Billionaire Owners
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POM Wonderful first hit grocery store shelves in the early aughts, making pomegranate juice accessible to the average American. The stuff is tasty, to be sure, but what makes it popular among shoppers is the company’s marketing, particularly its ads touting the pomegranate's unique, disease-fighting powers.
These health claims are now under scrutiny by the Federal Trade Commission, which recently concluded that POM Wonderful has engaged in deceptive advertising by printing claims not backed up by scientific research. The research in question was funded by none other than POM Wonderful, to the tune of more than $35 million.
To make matters worse, POM Wonderful is now doubling down on its false claims. This week the company put out ads, including a full-pager in the New York Times, that include out-of-context quotes from the recent FTC decision. In the decision, an FTC judge concluded that POM had violated federal law by making false claims about its products’ ability to “treat, prevent, or reduce the risk of heart disease, prostate cancer, and erectile dysfunction.” But you wouldn’t know that from this ad:
Food Politics blogger Marion Nestle, who has been closely following the POM Wonderful vs. FTC saga since the FTC filed its complaint back in September, puts the quotes in context for us. For instance:
The POM ad quotes from the chief administrative law judge’s decision:
"Competent and reliable scientific evidence supports the conclusion that the consumption of pomegranate juice and pomegranate extract supports prostate health, including by prolonging PSA doubling time in men with rising PSA after primary treatment for prostate cancer (page 282)."
I turned immediately to page 282. The sentence before the one quoted would seem to support it:
"The basic research, the Pantuck Study, and the Carducci Study, relied on by Respondents [POM Wonderful], support the conclusion that pomegranate juice has a beneficial effect on prostate health."
But what follows the quotation makes it clear that although the research claims to support the effect, it really doesn’t. Here’s what immediately follows the quotation in the same paragraph:
"However, the greater weight of the persuasive expert testimony shows that the evidence relied upon by Respondents is not adequate to substantiate claims that the POM Products treat, prevent, or reduce the risk of prostate cancer or that they are clinically proven to do do so. Indeed, the authors of the Pantuck Study and the Carducci study each testified that their study did not conclude that POM juice treats, prevents, or reduces the risk of prostate cancer. And, as Respondents’ expert conceded, no clinical studies, research and/or trials show definitely that the POM Products treat, prevent, or reduce the risk of prostate cancer."
You can see all of POM Wonderful’s new ads on its new, slickly designed and ironically named Web site, POMTruth.org.
The Billionaires Behind POM Wonderful
POM Wonderful is a part of Roll International, an umbrella company that also controls flower company Teleflora and "luxury" bottled water brand Fiji, among other companies. Roll International is owned by Stewart and Lynda Resnick, a Los Angeles billionaire power couple who are known for both living and giving lavishly. In a 2008 profile of Lynda Resnick (subscription required), the New Yorker’s Amanda Fortini said the Resnicks’ enormous Beverly Hills mansion, known as Sunset House, is “so ornate it looks unreal.” Lynda Resnick brags about her impressive connections -- her rolodex is packed with Hollywood and big business VIPs -- and drops millions like they’re nothing (“Anything over twenty-five million dollars, we talk,” she said of her business relationship with her husband). The Resnicks are also big wigs on the LA charity scene, having given millions to local museums and other institutions.