Pomegranate juice has become popular, but a rival brand tastes especially sour to Los Angeles billionaire Stewart Resnick.
In 2006, Paul Hachigian decided to cash in on the health drink fad by launching his own brand of pomegranate juice, Newport Beach-based Purely Juice Inc., which manufactures and distributes the product nationwide.
But when Purely Juice entered the market, Resnick's Pom Wonderful, LLC had already been on grocery stores' shelves for four years. And Hachigian said the Los Angeles-based company has sued him because it didn't like the competition.
Hachigian, who once served as vice president of one of Resnick's companies, said Pom is trying to drive his smaller outfit out of the market and create a monopoly in California pomegranate juice.
Representatives for Pom, the largest grower of pomegranates in the U.S., didn't return calls seeking comment. But in court documents, Pom claims Purely Juice engaged in unfair business by selling a product that contained added sweeteners at a lower price.
A trial is scheduled to begin April 8 in Los Angeles federal court, where Hachigian would battle claims that his company falsely advertised its product as being 100 percent pomegranate juice with no added sugars.
Pom alleges Purely Juice's false advertising helped the company take away some of Pom's market share. Pom, which posted sales of $7.4 million in 2007, is seeking more than $2 million.
The dispute over whether Purely Juice misled consumers started in April 2007, when Pom filed a federal lawsuit against its competitor.
The company sent samples from eight bottles of Purely Juice's 100 percent pomegranate juice to several food labs for testing. Pom claims the lab results showed that the samples, which came from bottles with dates between January 2007 and August 2007, consisted of cane sugar, corn syrup, and citric and malic acid.
Purely Juice has acknowledged its product may have been adulterated and tested its own samples. The company then withheld all bottles with use-by dates of June 2007, costing $1.2 million.
Hachigian said Purely Juice solved the problem by switching suppliers of its concentrate, but Pom's litigation dealt a blow to his business.
"When the lawsuit first came out, it was perceived as being against me and looked like I was doing something incorrect," Hachigian said.
A beverage industry analyst wasn't surprised to hear about Pom's suit.
"They created the pomegranate juice category, so it's not surprising that they are working to defend what they would consider their turf," said Gary Hemphill, senior vice president of the Beverage Marketing Corp.'s information services.
Before launching Purely Juice, Hachigian was vice president of Resnick's pistachio-processing business Paramount Farms.
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