Nestle SA’s Poland Spring Water unit has allegedly duped American consumers into paying premium prices for ordinary ground water that’s pumped from some of Maine’s most populated areas, rather than from natural springs as the company advertises, according to a lawsuit.
While Poland Springs says its water bottles contain “100 percent natural spring water” from a source deep in Maine’s woods, the complaint filed August 15 in federal court in Connecticut claims that Nestle Waters North America has bottled well water that doesn’t meet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s definition of spring water. The suit, which includes claims for breach of contract and fraud, also seeks unspecified damages for violations of state laws including New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts.
None of Poland Spring Water’s eight purported “natural spring” sites contains a genuine spring under FDA rules, according to the suit. “One or more” of the company’s largest volume groundwater collection sites -- which the suit says supplies up to 99 percent of the water in Poland Spring Water products -- are near a current or former refuse pit, landfill or petroleum dump site, the plaintiffs say.
Even the historic Poland Spring site in western Maine, which displays a stream of mineral water shielded behind glass, is no longer natural but instead generated by a machine that pumps it out of the ground, according to the complaint.
“To consumers, ‘spring water’ from a naturally occurring spring signifies purity and high quality and commands a premium price compared to defendant’s non-spring drinking water products or filtered tap water,” according to the proposed class-action suit filed on behalf of consumers who’ve bought the water. “To illicitly capture that premium, defendant, since it began selling the Poland Spring brand in 1993, has bottled common groundwater and illegally mislabeled it as ‘100 percent Natural Spring Water.’”
While Poland Spring’s water products aren’t contaminated because the company disinfects and in some cases purifies the groundwater it collects, the suit maintains the company’s claims are misleading because the water comes from wells in low-lying populated areas near potential sources of contamination.
Poland Spring Response
In a statement, Nestle Waters vowed to fight the suit.
“The claims made in the lawsuit are without merit and an obvious attempt to manipulate the legal system for personal gain,” according to a statement the company issued Saturday. “Poland Spring is 100% spring water. It meets the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations defining spring water, all state regulations governing spring classification for standards of identity, as well as all federal and state regulations governing spring water collection, good manufacturing practices, product quality and labeling. We remain highly confident in our legal position.”
According to the website for the town of Poland Spring, a homesteader named Hiram Ricker declared in the mid-1800s that the mineral spring on his family’s property cured his dyspepsia, which caused people to flock to the area to take advantage of the spring’s curative powers.
The case is Mark Patane v. Nestle Waters North America Inc. 17-CV-01381, U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut.