Dannon Settles Complaints Over Yogurt Ads

The U.S. unit of French food giant Danone S.A. agreed to settle state and federal investigations into alleged false advertising about the health benefits of its Activia yogurt and DanActive dairy drinks for $21 million, federal officials announced Wednesday.

The Federal Trade Commission said Dannon, a unit of French food and bottled waters company Danone, will drop claims that its Activia yogurt and dairy products will help prevent colds or alleviate digestive problems. The company wasn't immediately available for comment.

"Companies like Dannon shouldn't exaggerate the strength of scientific support for their products," said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz in a statement. "Consumers want, and are entitled to accurate information when it comes to their health."

State and federal officials investigated health claims involving Dannon's Activia yogurts and DanActive dairy beverages, which contain "probiotics" or live bacteria which some studies suggest help alleviate digestion issues and boost the body's immune system. Activia has been heavily promoted in the U.S. in television ads featuring actress Jamie Lee Curtis.

The Dannon settlement is part of a broader focus by U.S. regulators on advertising by food companies touting health benefits of certain foods and drinks that contain probiotics. In July, the FTC settled claims with Nestle SA over advertising of its Boost Kid Essentials beverage, which the company claimed could help kids avoid colds and reduce absences from school.

Like Activia and DanActive, Boost Kid Essentials contains probiotics.

Regulators in the U.S. and the European Union have been cracking down on food and beverage companies citing the benefits of products containing probiotics, which are bacteria found in yogurt and other foods.

In October 2009, a European Food Safety Authority panel rejected health claims made about some foods and beverages containing probiotics, saying companies hadn't provided enough scientific evidence proving the benefits.

Dannon settled a U.S. class action lawsuit in September 2009 involving similar advertising claims about its Activia and DanActive products and set up a $35 million fund to reimburse customers.

As a part of the settlement, Dannon is prohibited from claiming any "yogurt, dairy drink or probiotic food or drink reduces the likelihood of getting a cold or the flu," unless the company can get approval from the Food and Drug Administration to make the claim.

Dannon also can't say its Activia yogurt will relieve digestive issues unless its advertisement notes that consumers must eat three servings of the yogurt daily to obtain that benefit, the FTC said.

The FTC worked together with attorneys general from 39 states on its Dannon investigation and the yogurt giant agreed to pay $21 million to the states to settle the inquiry.