11/06/2012 04:47 pm ET Updated Jan 06, 2013

New Lawsuit, But Dubious Marketing Claims Nothing New for Nestlé

Ah, Nestlé, you've done it again. First, in the 1970s, campaigners boycotted you, charging that you violated World Health Organization guidelines on advertising and duped mothers (especially, and most tragically, in developing countries) into thinking infant formula was better than breast milk. Then Elisabeth Badinter, the heiress to Publicis (your PR firm that has long been pushing formula) wrote a book about how breastfeeding is bad for feminism. Now, you're getting sued -- again -- for misleading labels.

A Chicago-based firm is suing Nestlé Waters for supplying them with purified municipal tap water instead of the "100 percent Natural Spring Water" it uses in the marketing materials for it's Ice Mountain Water brand (which apparently does not apply to the five-gallon jugs of Ice Mountain Water, a fact which is hidden in a document on Nestlé's website, Forbes reports). Forbes also reports that several years ago, Nestlé Waters settled a lawsuit over its Poland Springs brand, which was marketed as coming from a deep underground source when in fact it came from a well encircled by a parking lot.

It seems like a pattern, Nestlé.

You so badly want to corner the market on nourishment for all ages -- whether it's bottling our communities' water and selling it back to us for an exorbitant profit, or using health care facilities to market your infant formulas to exhausted or un-informed new mothers. And your latest effort? Gerber Pure bottled water, which you are marketing as "made for mixing (infant formula and/or cereal)." Not only should you buy formula -- you should also buy our bottled water to mix it with!

Nestlé's strategy for growing profits is clear with its newest legion of Popularly Positioned Products (PPPs). Earlier this year, we blogged about Nestlé boasting in its investor materials that it is including its Pure Life brand (which is really filtered tap water) and its infant formula as products they are positioning in developing markets:

PPPs target less affluent consumers in emerging markets (UN/World Bank definition -- those with an annual purchasing power parity between $3,000 and $22,000 per-capita) as well as low food spenders in developed economies. Together, they represent some 50 percent of the world's population. Hence, PPPs target the biggest and fastest growing consumer base in emerging markets as well as important sub-groups in developed markets.

(Soon after this blog was published, they made the report accessible only via login.)

You can see how the strategy to expand its consumer base would sound good to Nestlé's investors. But wait a minute -- the company is blatantly marketing its products like bottled tap water and infant formula to the people who can least afford them?

Perhaps they have done their market research. Only 35 percent of women living below the poverty level in the United States reported breastfeeding at six months compared with 53 percent of women at the highest income level. And 31 percent of women living in poverty supplemented with infant formula within two days of giving birth compared to only 21 percent of women at the highest income levels.

Nestlé is still using dishonest claims to position their products as better than tap (or breast). That's the way you're going to get repeat customers, Nestlé -- hoodwink exhausted new mothers, who are seeking the best possible ways to start off their little ones, into thinking that your product is better than much less expensive and more sustainable alternatives.

Mothers deserve better than the dishonest marketing claims they are barraged by everyday from Nestlé. Never has there been a more appropriate saying than "buyer beware" when it comes to the products Nestlé pushes and the nourishment of our families.

This post originally appeared on Food & Water Watch's blog.