Brew Dr. Kombucha, LLC is on the receiving end of a proposed class action lawsuit that alleges its kombucha drinks do not contain the number of probiotic bacteria advertised and stated on product labels.
Bacterial benefits and kombucha’s increasing popularity
Kombucha is a beverage made from tea and touted widely for its health benefits, chief among which are that it contains probiotic bacteria said to aid with digestion and help regulate various bodily processes. During the brewing process, bacteria added to the tea will break down sugars and other substances and release organic acids and gases as a by-product, the suit explains. Recent years have seen the popularity of kombucha skyrocket from a niche health food store item to a widely available beverage in grocery store chains like Costco and Whole Foods.
Cited in the lawsuit is a consensus statement released in 2014 by the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics, who essentially said that a review and meta-analyses of literature and clinical studies found that “certain health benefits can be prescribed to probiotics” delivered at functional doses of over one billion “colony forming units,” or CFUs.
The way to scientifically determine the number of probiotic bacteria in a product such as kombucha, the lawsuit says, is to count the number of CFUs, or the number of bacterial colonies that grow from a given sample of the product.
“Billions” of probiotic bacteria?
According to the 18-page lawsuit out of Oregon, while Portland-based Brew Dr. Kombucha claims that its “Clear Mind” product contains a rather high number of probiotic bacteria, with product labels indicating that each bottle “hosts billions” of “live and active cultures,” yeasts, and organic acids, the truth is that independent lab testing has shown that this is not the case. Alleging that Brew Dr. Kombucha’s product labeling and advertisements are “false and misleading,” the case states that the defendant’s Clear Mind kombucha contains “far less” probiotics than the “billions” per bottle touted by the company. From the complaint:
In fact, Defendant’s ‘Clear Mind’ kombucha drink has been shown to contain only 50,000 CFUs of probiotic bacteria per bottle—far less than the ‘billions’ advertised on its product labeling. Accordingly, Defendant regularly sold kombucha drink products that featured false and inaccurate representations about their probiotic content that did not correspond to the actual amount of probiotics in the product.”
According to the case, testing done on samples of the defendant’s “Clear Mind” beverage showed the product contained “as little as 120 CFUs” of probiotic bacteria per milliliter, which reportedly hashes out to only about 50,000 CFUs per bottle—20,000 times less than the one billion claimed by Brew Dr. Kombucha.
The lawsuit argues that consumers buy kombucha in part because of its probiotic content, and product labels and advertising play a material role in what type and brand of the beverage gets purchased. According to the lawsuit, Brew Dr. Kombucha’s product labels and marketing statements “were false, misleading and reasonably likely to deceive the public.” Consumers, as a result, may not have purchased the company’s product—or paid as much as they did—had they known its probiotic content was lower than advertised, the case says.
Who’s covered by this lawsuit?
The lawsuit aims to cover all consumers across the United States who, within the applicable statute of limitations, bought any of Brew Dr. Kombucha’s kombucha products, at any retail location, that depicted or contained any representation of “billions.”