by Marion Nestle
Jul 23 2019

Coca-Cola wants the FDA to let it add vitamins to drinks

Thanks to Elaine Watson at FoodNavigator-USA for writing about Coca-Cola’s efforts to get the FDA to let it put vitamins in its drinks.  OK, its “healthier” drinks.

Historically, the FDA discouraged (putting it mildly) makers of candy and other junk foods from adding vitamins so they could be marketed as “healthy.”  This was known as the “jelly bean rule.”   Vitamins could not be added to jelly beans—or Coca-Cola.

It’s not really a formal rule, but here’s what the FDA says in 21CFR104.20:  ​

The Food and Drug Administration does not encourage indiscriminate addition of nutrients to foods, nor does it consider it appropriate to fortify fresh produce; meat, poultry, or fish products; sugars; or snack foods such as candies and carbonated beverages.

But what about the exceptions?

  • Gummy Bears: vitamins are be added to gummy bears, but these are typically sold as dietary supplements, not foods. They can do this because the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 authorized much looser rules for supplements.  Even though gummy bears are candy, the FDA isn’t going to fight this one.
  • Glaceau Vitamin Water:  Coca-Cola now owns this company. Some Vitamin Waters have as much sugar as a Coke.  They have Nutrition Facts labels and are marketed as foods, and look to me to be in violation of the jelly bean rule,.  The FDA hasn’t done anything about them, even though they are vitamin-enriched sugar water.  If you have any idea why not, please tell me.

For decades, Coca-Cola has tried to get the FDA to ease up on the jelly bean rule.  Now it is trying again.

Its argument?  The rule, by not allowing the addition of vitamins to sugary teas and coffees, stifles innovation.

Its assurance?  It won’t add vitamins to Coke, but will add them to its other, presumably “healthier” (meaning, I suppose, less sugary) beverages.

As I wrote earlier, candy makers are trying this trick too.

I wonder how long the FDA can hold out on this one.  I wish it luck.