Would a reasonable consumer think “margarita” labeled hard seltzers contained tequila? A New York federal judge didn’t think so, tossing a proposed class action last week against Coca Cola regarding its Topo Chico brand of hard seltzers.

Plaintiff complained that Topo Chico Margarita Hard Seltzer products, which are made using fermented sugar alcohol and without any distilled spirits, misled consumers into believing the drinks contained tequila. Specifically, Plaintiff argues that a “margarita” drink is expected to contain tequila, and that the term “hard” in the context of alcohol refers to “hard liquor,” like tequila.  “Consumers expect to receive a cocktail containing tequila when they order a margarita, as this ingredient defines what a margarita is,” the decision quotes.

The court opined that Plaintiff had attempted to strip the term “hard” of its context by arguing that it predominantly refers to distilled spirits. While this might be so when used in the phrase “hard liquor,” the court said, it isn’t necessarily the case in other phrases such as “hard cider” or “hard lemonade” – or even “hard seltzer,” for that matter.

Further, the court said that the product uses the term “margarita” as a modifier of the term “hard seltzer,” without any reference to cocktails or tequila. Accordingly, the court explained, a reasonable consumer would understand that the product is a hard seltzer made to taste like a margarita.

The Plaintiff also argued that the product’s front label is misleading because it does not contain sparkling mineral water sourced in Monterrey, Mexico, which Plaintiff claims is an essential part of the brand’s beverages. The court determined that it would be implausible for a reasonable consumer to view the Topo Chico branding on the Product’s label and automatically conclude that the Product contained sparkling water sourced in Monterrey, Mexico.

The court granted Topo Chico’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, dismissing Plaintiff’s deceptive labeling allegations.

Warren v. The Coca-Cola Co., case number 7:22-cv-06907, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.