One of the hottest food marketing trends these days involves adding live bacteria to dairy products as a way to boost health.
Dannon claims Activia can help regulate your digestive system.
Now lawyers have filed a class-action lawsuit against yogurt maker Dannon, one of the biggest sellers of “probiotic” yogurts, saying the claims of a health benefit dupe consumers. The company’s Activia and DanActive line of yogurt products contain live bacteria and claim to help regulate digestion and boost the immune system. The suit, filed in United States District Court in California, seeks redress for consumers who purchased the yogurt products based on what it says are “bogus claims.'’
“Deceptive advertising has enabled Dannon to sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of ordinary yogurt at inflated prices to responsible, health- conscious consumers,” said Los Angeles attorney Timothy G. Blood, of the firm Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins.
In response, Dannon issued a statement saying it “stands by the claims of its products and the clinical studies which support them.'’
“All of Dannon’s claims for Activia and DanActive are completely supported by peer-reviewed science and are in accordance with all laws and regulations,'’ said the statement. “Dannon’s advertising has always been and will continue to be absolutely truthful, and Dannon will vigorously challenge this lawsuit.”
Probiotics are defined as live microorganisms that, in sufficient amounts, confer a health benefit on the host. A growing body of research links probiotics to relief of digestive tract complaints such as irritable bowel syndrome, yeast infections, and diarrhea that results from certain illnesses. The idea behind probiotics is to increase the amount of beneficial bacteria in people’s intestinal tracts as a way to aid digestion, boost the body’s natural defenses and fight off harmful bacteria that can cause health problems.
Although the scientific evidence shows that probiotics really can help, questions remain about how well that research translates into the real world, where some marketers may add untested amounts of the bacteria to various foods. While there are thousands of different probiotics, only a handful have been tested in clinical trials and been shown to deliver specific health benefits when eaten regularly. Most probiotic products can be found in the dairy case or as dietary supplements.
Dannon’s Activia line has been a marketing success story for the company, surpassing $100 million in sales in the United States its first year. The yogurt includes a form of Bifidobacteria that survives passage through the digestive tract, arriving in the colon as a living culture. The company claims that “once there, it plays a beneficial role in your intestinal ecosystem.'’ The yogurts are backed by a high-profile advertising campaign as well as a Web site
. The site includes a link
to company-sponsored studies showing that the bacteria used in Activia significantly improves regularity in study subjects.
The firm’s DanActive line, meanwhile, contains a different type of bacteria the company claims
“helps strengthen your body’s defense.'’
The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t do much to guide consumers on the issue, simply policing food packages to make sure that companies do not try to equate probiotic products with disease-curing drugs.
A 2006 report
from the American Society for Microbiology noted that “at present, the quality of probiotics available to consumers in food products around the world is unreliable.”