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January 24, 2008

US: Danone US arm sued over probiotic ads

Danone’s US subsidiary has been hit with a lawsuit that claims the company of using false advertising to promote its probiotic yogurt in the country.

Danone’s US subsidiary has been hit with a lawsuit that claims the company of using false advertising to promote its probiotic yogurt in the country.

The suit against The Dannon Co was filed yesterday (23 January) in California, accuses the company of convincing consumers to pay more for the yogurt because of its assumed health benefits.

The lawsuit said 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 yoghurts did not.

Dannon spokesman Michael Neuwirth told Reuters that the company was not aware of the lawsuit but stood by the claims of their products and the clinical studies which support them.

The court case will seek reimbursement for all US purchasers of the Dannon products involved and require the company to engage in a “corrective advertising campaign”.

The lawsuit cited scientific reports showing there was no conclusive evidence that the bacteria prevented illness or was beneficial to healthy adults, and that Dannon knew this.

Probiotics are just beginning to take off in the US, a market that has lagged behind Western Europe and Japan in its awareness of the category.

Scientific approval and recognition in Japan and Europe had provided the foundation on which probiotic products in those markets could grow. In the US, the scientific community had been initially reluctant to embrace the idea.

However, that resistance is slowly being broken and the US is becoming a more fertile ground for probiotics. In the last year, General Mills has also launched probiotic products and Yakult is being rolled out into the US mainstream for the first time.

Officials at Dannon could not be reached for comment as just-food when to press.

See the just-food blog for our thoughts on Danone’s fight.

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