Attorney General Settles with Dannon for Deceptive Yogurt Advertising

By Michelle Murdock, Freelance Writer

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley along with the Attorneys General of 38 other states entered into a $21 million settlement today with The Dannon Company, Inc. (“Dannon”), to resolve allegations that Dannon made unsubstantiated and unlawful marketing claims concerning its Activia and DanActive yogurt products.
Under the multistate settlement, Dannon will pay $21 million to the Attorneys General—the largest payment to date in a multistate settlement with a food producer. Massachusetts will receive $425,000. The Attorneys General worked in close cooperation on the investigation with the Federal Trade Commission, which also filed a settlement with Dannon today.

“Today’s settlement with Dannon demonstrates the importance of protecting consumers from unsupported health claims made by food manufacturers,” said AG Coakley. “Companies cannot advertise products based on false or unsubtansiated promises of health benefits. Rather, they must be able to provide scientific evidence that their products truly provide the promised benefit.”

In a complaint filed today in Suffolk Superior Court, Attorney General Coakley alleged that Dannon made unlawful claims in advertising, marketing, packaging, and selling Activia yogurts and DanActive dairy drinks, including claims that were not substantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence at the time the claims were made. Dannon represented that Activia helped to regulate one’s digestive system based largely on the presence of one ingredient, a bacterial strain with purported probiotic benefits that Dannon trademarked under the name “Bifidus Regularis.” Dannon represented that Activia improved intestinal transit time when an individual consumed one serving per day for two weeks. However, studies demonstrated a benefit only for individuals who consumed three servings per day for two weeks.

Dannon also represented that its DanActive drinks provided consumers with increased “immunity” and cold and flu prevention benefits. The Attorneys General allege that those claims are unlawful and that Dannon lacked adequate scientific evidence to support those claims.

Under the terms of today’s judgment, Dannon is prohibited from advertising that any of its yogurts or dairy drinks can prevent, treat, cure or mitigate disease. Additionally, Dannon must possess competent and reliable scientific evidence to support claims about the health benefits, performance, efficacy or safety of its probiotic food products.