(CBS) -- La Croix says its sparkling water sales are bubbling over, up 17% last year. It's touted as a "natural", sodium and calorie-free alternative to soda. But a new lawsuit alleges those "natural" claims are false.
The lawsuit says synthetic chemical compounds are added to La Croix to make the drink "taste or smell a certain way." The suit claims one ingredient causes kidney tumors and another is used as a cockroach insecticide. Nutritional scientist Roger Clemens says the compounds are considered safe.
"These compounds are found in nature, mostly in fruit such as oranges, limes, strawberries, pineapples, bananas. So, we consume these compounds if we eat any kind of fruit," he said.
It will be up to a jury to determine whether those compounds found in La Croix are derived from natural substances or are created artificially. Parent company National Beverage Corporation, says the ingredients are "derived from the natural essence oils from the named fruit used in each of the flavors" and "are certified by our suppliers to be 100% natural." Still, the labeling is part of a larger problem because there's no industry standard as to what the word means.
I believe that consumers today are confused with the word 'natural'. They believe natural means safer, natural means more wholesome.
One analysis predicts continued explosive growth in U.S. sales of so-called natural products, reaching $252 billion by next year. But there have been a reported 300 lawsuits over the use of the word on food products in the last three years. In one 2016 settlement, General Mills was forced to drop the word natural from this granola bar's packaging.
"So, if the consumer can't figure this out, so then we have to go over to the FDA and their group of scientists to figure out a workable definition so people can be comfortable with that definition, so they can buy into it."
The Food and Drug Administration says it does not comment on pending lawsuits. The organization has been studying the issue for three years now, but still hasn't come up with a definition. Scientists say it'll be a tough task to come up with language that satisfies both food companies and consumers.