AriZona Iced Tea's green tea with ginseng beverage contains no "detectable" amount of ginseng, according to a lawsuit filed in federal district court in Central Islip.
The lawsuit, filed earlier this month on behalf of two consumers, is seeking class-action status to represent purchasers of AriZona Green Tea with Ginseng and Honey in states around the country.
Executives of Woodbury-based AriZona Iced Tea LLC, Beverage Marketing USA Inc. and their affiliated companies did not respond to a request for comment.
The popular beverage, which the AriZona Iced Tea website describes as "America's best selling green tea," carries labels that say it contains “ginseng for energy,” the lawsuit said.
Prices for ginseng, a plant root used as a medicinal herb and thought by some to increase brain function and boost energy levels, have surged above $1,000 per pound due to intense demand, according to the lawsuit.
"Defendants know that if they were to use enough ginseng in the product to actually provide energy to consumers, their revenues and competitive advantage would suffer," the lawsuit said.
Two food laboratories hired for the lawsuit conducted three tests of the beverage for "the main chemical constituent" of ginseng and found that if ginseng was an ingredient it was "so minuscule" that it cannot be detected by scientific tests.
The laboratories, meanwhile, did detect ginseng in competing products from Starbucks and Republic of Tea, the suit says.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of consumers Kalesha Niles of upstate Gloversville and Jason Lahey of Lee's Summit, Missouri, seeks a jury trial and undetermined compensatory, statutory and punitive damages plus interest and legal fees.
The plaintiffs' attorney, Stephen Raab of Seattle, did not respond to a request for comment.
Professor Norman Silber, who teaches consumer law at Hofstra Law School in Hempstead, said the company could present alternative lab tests that show the presence of ginseng. Alternatively, the company could modify the product's recipe or rebrand it with a revised description, though both of those options could be costly.
A lawsuit filed in September in U.S. District Court in Central Islip alleging that AriZona Beverages' labels misled consumers about the amount of sugar and calories in its drinks by using a serving size of 8 fluid ounces instead of the actual size of the container was dismissed in March.
Another lawsuit filed in October in U.S. District Court in Manhattan alleging that the Woodbury company "deceptively" labeled beverages as having "no preservatives," when many of its products contain citric or ascorbic acid — deemed preservatives by some food experts — is ongoing.