Dannon Settles Activia Suit

Ads overstated yogurt's effect on digestive health

Dannon has settled a massive consumer class action alleging that ads for certain brands of its yogurt overstate their claimed health benefits. The settlement will shell out $35 million to affected consumers.

The suit alleged that ads of both Activia and DanActive yogurt exaggerated their beneficial effects on human health. The ads promote the yogurt as improving digestion and have become well known for their goofiness; a recent Activia iteration features actress Jamie Lee Curtis, seated on a couch, noting that our busy lives sometimes force us to eat the wrong things at the wrong times, and promoting Activia as the solution to digestive issues.

A voiceover in the ad claims that Activia is clinically proven to help regulate your digestive system in two weeks if eaten everyday.

The ads credit Bifidus Regularis, a Dannon-created name for bacteria found in mammals' large intestines, with Activia's positive effects on digestion.

'Bifudis Regularis'

According to the official Activia website, Dannon selected Bifidus Regularis for Activia because it survives passage through the digestive tract, arriving in the colon as a living culture, where it plays a beneficial role in your intestinal ecosystem. Whether this appetizing section of the Activia campaign will stay or go remains to be seen.

Dannon, a subsidiary of the French company Groupe Danone whose U.S. headquarters is in White Plains, N.Y., agreed to create a fund to reimburse qualified consumers, up to $100 each.

As part of the settlement, Dannon agreed to make changes to its ad campaign to bring it in line with the product's actual benefits (or lack thereof). The company also promised to make changes to the yogurt's labels and packaging.

In the settlement, which still requires final approval from an Ohio federal court, Dannon denied wrongdoing and said it was agreeing to settle only to avoid the uncertainty and expense of further litigation.

It's unclear how much of the ad content will change, or if Curtis will stay on board. As with most commercials, certain claims might be misleading but technically true; at one point, Curtis says that 87% of this country suffers from digestive issues, although this figure may include those who experience occasional heartburn or stomach aches.

A big win

The agreement is a significant victory for Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins, the San Diego-based class action firm that once won a $7 billion lawsuit against Enron. The $35 million Activia settlement is the largest-ever for a suit alleging false advertising of a food product.

The firm is apparently confident in its legal strategy; it's now pushing forward with a similar suit targeting General Mills' Yoplait Yo-Plus yogurt. That item is similarly advertised as promoting good health by regulating digestive pathways. In its complaint against General Mills, Coughlin Stoia says that the company falsely claims to have clinical proof to back up its claims. That suit is being heard in Florida.

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