Legal Battle Brews over Chobani, Dannon, Yoplait Yogurts
Video ads included
Chobani’s new ad campaign calls out low-calorie yogurts made by Yoplait and Dannon for their artificial ingredients, and a legal battle is ensuing.
It’s the first marketing push for the yogurt, which was launched in 2014.
The ads, which appear on TV, in social media, and in newspapers, list the differences between Chobani’s Simply 100 yogurts, and Yoplait’s and Dannon’s low-calorie yogurts. The ads say that Dannon Light & Fit Greek uses the artificial sweetener sucralose and Yoplait Greek 100 contains potassium sorbate as a preservative, which the Simply 100 yogurts do not.
Chobani’s Simply 100 yogurt is sweetened with monk fruit, evaporated cane juice, and stevia. It contains no genetically modified ingredients, no artificial flavors, sweeteners, or preservatives. The milk comes from cows that haven’t been treated with hormones, plus live and active cultures and 3 types of probiotics. 
“We were late to the game on this one. We stand by late for good reason,” said Chobani Chief Marketing Officer Peter McGuinness. “We wanted to develop a light yogurt using only natural ingredients and not using artificial sweeteners and artificial preservatives, among other things.”
But Yoplait and Dannon say Chobani is blowing the artificial ingredients in its products completely out of proportion.
“Like many reduced-calorie foods, Light & Fit Greek nonfat yogurt contains sucralose, an F.D.A.-approved ingredient that has been safely and widely used as a sweetener in foods for more than 15 years,” Michael Neuwirth, senior director of public relations at Dannon, said.
Potassium sorbate is a synthetically-produced, common preservative that Chobani claims “is used to kill bugs” in its ads. While the FDA has, indeed, deemed it generally safe for use, there is strong evidence that the preservative – used to prevent bacteria, yeast and mold growth – is genotoxic to the human peripheral blood lymphocytes. In other words, it damages DNA. 
Sucralose, or Splenda, is chlorinated sucrose, which is ordinary table sugar, and is an organochlorine compound. These compounds may be linked to birth defects, cancer, and immune dysfunction. These chemicals remain in the body and build up over time.
The website Down to Earth explains:
“According to the Sucralose Toxicity Information Center, the absorbed sucralose and its metabolites (chemically altered substances) concentrate in the liver, kidney, and gastrointestinal tract. Splenda manufacturers claim there is minimal absorption of Splenda and its metabolites. The FDA says there is only 11 percent to 27 percent absorption, but the Japanese Food Sanitation Council says as much as 40 percent is absorbed by the body.”
In addition, the FDA says that sucralose is 98% pure. That might sound reassuring, but the remaining 2% contains heavy metals including lead, arsenic, triphenylphosphine oxide, methanol, chlorinated disaccharides, and other potentially dangerous substances. 
But Neuwirth said in an e-mail to The New York Times that Chobani’s ads are deceptive and misleading.
Mike Siemienas, a spokesman for General Mills, which owns Yoplait, said:
“The statements made by Chobani in their latest attempt to sell more yogurt are entirely misleading, and we don’t think consumers appreciate that kind of approach.”
The idea behind Chobani’s campaign is that weight-conscious women who purchase light Greek yogurt believe they are making healthy choices, but they would be disappointed to learn that the other brands contain fake ingredients.
One ad features a woman sitting poolside. She tosses a cup of Dannon Light & Fit into a used-towel receptacle with a repulsed look on her face.
One print ad, slated to appear in The New York Times and the Boston Globe, features a picture of Dannon Light & Fit Greek yogurt with the phrase, “There’s sucralose used as a sweetener in Dannon Light & Fit Greek! Sucralose? Why? That stuff has chlorine added to it.”
Beside a picture of Yoplait Greek 100 is the phrase, “Look, there’s potassium sorbate as a preservative in Yoplait Greek 100. Potassium sorbate? Really? That stuff is used to kill bugs.” 
Update: The ads have been removed due to a court order.
“This campaign is fundamentally about choice — the choice between natural ingredients versus artificial ingredients,” McGuinness said. “We’re empowering consumers with facts and information to help them make more informed decisions when they’re buying food for themselves and their families.”
Dannon quickly shot off a cease and desist letter to Chobani after the ads began running, demanding that it immediately stop the campaign.
“These Simply 100 advertisements are false, misleading and deceptive, will deceive consumers, and have caused and will continue to cause immediate and irreparable injury to Dannon, as well as to consumers,” Marcella Ballard, a lawyer at Venable who represents the French company, wrote to Chobani’s general counsel.
Ballard claims the ads violate the Lanham Act, a federal law that, among other things, guards companies against unfair competition and is frequently cited in cases alleging false and misleading advertising. She also says the ads violate New York State law.
McGuinness said: “These aren’t attack ads, these are tell-the-truth ads. They illuminate. Not all yogurts are created equal and we want consumers to make informed choices.” 
 Down to Earth
 Food Navigator
Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.