A proposed class action filed on Wednesday in California accuses The Dannon Co Inc of mounting a massive false advertising campaign to convince consumers to pay more for yogurt containing "probiotic" bacteria because of the products' health benefits.
The lawsuit, filed in a Los Angeles federal court, 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 yogurts did not.
It seeks reimbursement for all U.S. purchasers of Activia, Activia Lite and DanActive, and demands that Dannon engage in "a corrective advertising campaign."
Dannon spokesman Michael Neuwirth said the company was not aware of the lawsuit but stood by "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 United States in 2006, and DanActive, launched in 2007, are expected to account for 40 percent or more 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.
Other companies also have promoted the benefits of foods with probiotics in order to tap into health and wellness trends that have attracted consumers.
The lawsuit 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.
Coughlin serves as counsel in the case along with Mager & Goldstein LLP.