Activia, Deactiviated: FTC Forces Dannon to Modify Claims

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When Jamie Lee Curtis says “It works or it’s free” and urges viewers to take the Activia Challenge, she may be promising for too much. At least, that’s what the FTC thinks.

Ads such as this for Activia give consumers the impression that the yogurt, the leading US brand with probiotic ingredients, can remedy constipation in two weeks. Ads such as the one above and this for DanActive, a yogurt drink, indicate it may reduce the likelihood of getting a cold or flu.

Not so fast. FTC Jon Leibowitz chides Dannon for these claims which, he says, “are enough to give consumers indigestion. Companies like Dannon shouldn’t exaggerate the strength of scientific support for their products.”

In response to the FTC’s concerns, Dannon has agreed to pay $21 million in a settlement that involves 39 U.S. states.[more]

It’s the largest multi-state attorney general consumer protection settlement ever reached with a food manufacturer. Oregon and Tennessee will each receive $1.06 million because they initiated the complaint while the other states will divide the remaining amount.

Dannon will pay the fine but it is standing by its claims, at least those that relate to constipation. Currently on the Activia website, Dannon states: “Activia, with the unique probiotic culture called Bifidus Regularis® (Bifidobacterium lactis DN 173 010), works in your gut to help regulate your digestive system by helping with slow intestinal transit*.” The asterisk leads to this statement: “Activia is shown in several clinical studies to help with slow intestinal transit when eaten every day for two weeks as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.”

Brand spokesman Michael Neuwirth says Dannon will now simply inform American consumers that “any statements about benefits for digestion or the immune system are based on European studies involving three servings a day of yogurt.” However, the settlement does call for Dannon not to claim its yogurt products can reduce the chance of getting a cold or flu unless that claim is approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The issue, of course, is whether or not consumers will be willing to eat probiotic-laced yogurt products three times a day in order to enjoy the supposed intestinal health benefits. Isn’t that a lot to swallow?

While the brand has to curtail its health benefit claims in the US, the brand is free to continue running ads such as the following in the U.K., where its celebrity endorser is actress Martine McCutcheon:

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