MINNEAPOLIS — General Mills, Inc. has filed a civil action lawsuit against Chobani, L.L.C. for false advertising and common law unfair competition. The lawsuit was filed Jan. 10 in the U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota.
According to the lawsuit, Chobani has launched a multichannel national advertising campaign that “repeatedly and falsely attacks” General Mills’ Yoplait Greek 100 brand of Greek yogurt, including making what General Mills says are “false claims that Yoplait Greek 100 is laced with a pesticide that is ‘used to kill bugs.’”
“In fact, the television commercial that leads the Chobani Attack Campaign goes so far as to convey that, because Yoplait Greek 100 is laced with a pesticide, it is so dangerous and unfit to eat that consumers should discard it as garbage,” General Mills notes in the lawsuit.
At the root of Chobani’s claim is the fact Yoplait Greek 100 contains the ingredient potassium sorbate, which is used as a preservative in the product. According to General Mills, potassium sorbate is considered by multiple federal agencies to be a safe and non-harmful food ingredient.
“The Chobani Attack Campaign nonetheless purports to gravely warn consumers that the potassium sorbate in Yoplait Greek 100 is used to ‘kill bugs’ and therefore Yoplait Greek 100 is ‘bad stuff’ that is not ‘healthy,’ and that consumers should treat it as garbage,” General Mills notes in the lawsuit.
A web site dedicated to the new ad campaign is located at http://www.thelightthatsright.com/.
“The statements made by Chobani in their latest attempt to sell more yogurt are inaccurate and misleading, and we don’t think consumers appreciate that kind of approach,” said Mike Siemienas, manager, brand media relations, General Mills.
In addition to its attacks on General Mills’ Yoplait Greek 100 yogurts, Chobani has released advertisements that negatively portray Dannon’s use of sucralose in its Light & Fit line.
Shortly after the advertisement was released earlier this month, Dannon sent Chobani a cease and desist letter regarding the marketing campaign.
“We believe in truthful and honest marketing and advertising, and we are therefore very disappointed that the Chobani campaign misleads and deceives the public about the healthfulness and safety of our Light & Fit brand,” said Michael J. Neuwirth, senior director of public relations for Dannon. “Millions of people enjoy Light & Fit Greek nonfat yogurt because it tastes great, has 80 calories per 5.3-oz serving and offers consumers a healthy option in so many delicious flavors.
“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. The truth is, we carefully craft our recipes to make our products not only delicious, but nutritious, too. Dannon is a beloved American brand and as a company we have always prioritized the health and safety of our consumers, and to suggest anything to the contrary is false and damaging. We intend to pursue all available avenues to address Chobani’s misleading and deceptive marketing.”
In response to Dannon’s action, Chobani has filed suit in the U.S. District Court Northern District of New York seeking a declaration from the court that Chobani’s advertising for its Simply 100 line is not false.“While I’m not surprised, I’m disappointed that Dannon and General Mills are focused on stopping people from having the facts about artificial sweeteners and artificial preservatives,” said Peter McGuinness, chief marketing and brand officer, Chobani. “This campaign is about giving people truthful and accurate information so they can make more informed decisions about the food they buy.”