Blog: Dean BestProbiotics fight to win over new culture

Dean Best | 25 January 2008

No wonder Danone has come out so quickly – and so strongly – to fight claims it has misled consumers in the US.

The Dannon Co., Danone’s local subsidiary, has been hit with a lawsuit in California that alleges the company has used false advertising to promote its probiotic yogurts in the US.

The suit insists there is no conclusive evidence that probiotic bacteria prevents illness or is beneficial to healthy adults – and that, damningly, Dannon knew this.

The food giant has hit back, saying its advertising has “always been and will continue to be absolutely truthful” and that the company will “vigorously challenge” the legal action.

In truth, lawsuits of this kind can be pretty frivolous. Food and drink manufacturers get hit with writs like this regularly. On this occasion, however, Danone needs to assert itself – and quickly.

Unlike in Western Europe and Japan, probiotics are little known in the US. Initial scepticism in the scientific community held back the progress of probiotics across the Atlantic but, in recent months, there are signs that a fledgling market is beginning to take root.

Danone, General Mills and Yakult have all launched probiotic products to tap into growing awareness of the potential benefits that so-called “good” bacteria can bring to consumers. The size of the US market – and the desire among a significant number of Americans to improve their health – could make this a lucrative market for the purveyors of probiotics.

However, the market is at such an early stage of development that if just a germ of claims of deception takes root, the ambitions of Activia and the rest could be set back years.


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