The "POM" Pomegranate Scam: The Truth Behind the Company and Its Billionaire Owners
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In addition to spending big bucks on their home and their philanthropic pursuits, the Resnicks have been major donors to Democratic politicians. In some cases, those donations appear to have helped the Resnicks curry favor within the government. According to a 2009 report by Lance Williams for the Center for Investigative Reporting, Stewart Resnick’s years of donations to Sen. Dianne Feinstein seem to have helped Resnick call in a favor to the Obama administration: a $750,000 reexamination of an environmental protection plan for the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. As the owner of Paramount Farms, Resnick is one of the biggest growers in California, and the Delta environmental plan would have hampered Paramount’s irrigation potential.
In their business life, Stewart Resnick is reportedly the buyer and seller of businesses, while Lynda Resnick is the one with the sharp marketing sense. Indeed, it was Lynda Resnick who gave POM Wonderful its catchy name, helped develop its alluring packaging and pushed hard for it to be marketed as “a new category of food” -- a mega-healthy super-drink that belongs in the produce section, chilled, alongside the fruits and vegetables. She is the one who wanted to fund all that scientific research into the health benefits of pomegranate juice, and in turn use that research to sell POM Wonderful as something that, according to the FTC at least, it is not.
More Dubious Marketing
POM Wonderful isn’t the only Resnick product whose marketing raises eyebrows. Remember that the Resnicks’ company, Roll International, also owns Fiji Water. In a 2009 investigative report for Mother Jones, journalist Anna Lenzer described her trip to Fiji -- the island nation, and also the water bottling plant. As Lenzer details, Fiji’s deliberate and successful attempt to position itself as more “high-end” and “pure” than other bottled waters is not only disingenuous, it's morally reprehensible, given that many Fijians lack access to potable water.
Nowhere in Fiji Water's glossy marketing materials will you find reference to the typhoid outbreaks that plague Fijians because of the island's faulty water supplies; the corporate entities that Fiji Water has -- despite the owners' talk of financial transparency -- set up in tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Luxembourg; or the fact that its signature bottle is made from Chinese plastic in a diesel-fueled plant and hauled thousands of miles to its ecoconscious consumers. And, of course, you won't find mention of the military junta for which Fiji Water is a major source of global recognition and legitimacy.
Fiji Water touts its corporate philanthropy in Fiji, and is quick to mention the economic benefits the company brings to the country, but, as Lenzer notes, “though Fiji Water may fill a void in the impoverished nation, it also reaps a priceless benefit: tax-free status, granted when the company was founded in 1995....And when Fiji has tried to wring a bit of extra revenue from the company, the response has been less than cooperative. Last year, when the government attempted to impose a new tax on water bottlers, Fiji Water called it "draconian" (a term it's never used for the regime's human rights violations) and temporarily shut down its plant in protest.”
What Now For Consumers?
The FTC ruling on POM Wonderful’s false health claims has revived a long-standing debate about the legitimacy of corporate-sponsored scientific research. As Marion Nestle wrote recently, “It is not difficult to design research studies to give sponsors the answers they want and to make sure they are conducted well. POM is getting the best research that money can buy.”