Dannon Lawsuit Disputes Yogurt Health ClaimsJan 24, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
Dannon Co. is being for claiming that some of its yogurts provide a health benefit that other yogurts do not. A proposed class action suit was filed on Wednesday in California’s Los Angeles federal court accusing Dannon of falsely advertising its Activia, Activia Lite, and DanActive products. The suit claims Dannon initiated a massive false advertising campaign in order to convince consumers to pay more for yogurt containing probiotic bacteria.
Probiotic is a term that means “for life.” The human intestinal tract is filled with a huge amount of helpful, probiotic bacteria, which is a good thing since the human body is designed to have symbiotic relationships with probiotic bacteria which assist in digestion and destroy harmful microorganisms. Science indicates that as the body ages, the intestinal tract becomes more rigid at only accepting intestinal flora it recognizes; it is difficult for body to recognize or tolerate new good bacteria. Also, good bacteria decrease; therefore, it is important to supplement with probiotics, initiating this process early on in life.
Anecdotal evidence suggests friendly bacteria help a variety of digestive problems; however, in the U.S., no health claims for probiotics have been approved. The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization defines probiotics as live microorganisms...which confer a beneficial health effect on the host. In other words, for bacteria to be considered a probiotic, it must be beneficial to humans. As a result, if food manufacturers label a food as containing probiotics, the benefits must be proven by research.
The lawsuit against Dannon alleges that Dannon's own studies failed to support its advertised claims that its Activia, Activia Lite and DanActive were "clinically" and "scientifically" "proven" to have health benefits that other yogurts did not. The suit seeks reimbursement for all U.S. purchasers of Activia, Activia Lite and DanActive and demands Dannon correct their advertising campaign. According to Dannon spokesman Michael Neuwirth, Dannon is unaware of the lawsuit maintains "the claims of our products and the clinical studies which support them."
Dannon Co, a unit of France's Groupe Danone has relied on Activia and DanActive to help boost its U.S. yogurt business. Activia, launched in the U.S. in 2006; DanActive, in 2007. Both are expected to account for at least 40 percent of the company's U.S. yogurt business in 2008, Juan Carlo Dalto, Dannon chief executive, told Reuters in November. Activia's packaging says it contains "bifidus regularis," which "helps naturally regulate your digestive system." Dannon has claimed that its dairy drink DanActive "has been clinically proven to help naturally strengthen the body's defenses when consumed daily," the lawsuit said. The lawsuit also claims Dannon has spent "far more than $100 million" to convey deceptive messages to U.S. consumers while charging 30 percent more that other yogurt products. The lawsuit also cited scientific reports showing, counter to Dannon's advertising, that there was no conclusive evidence that the bacteria prevented illness or was beneficial to healthy adults and that Dannon knew this. The ads helped Dannon sell hundreds of millions of dollars of ordinary yogurt at inflated prices, plaintiffs' attorney Timothy Blood of Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins said.