Chobani Simply 100, Dannon Light & Fit, Yoplait 100
Chobani's campaign called out ingredients in Dannon Light&Fit and Yoplait Greek 100 yogurts.

UTICA, N.Y. — A U.S. district court on Jan. 29 pointed to the federally recognized safety of sucralose and potassium sorbate while granting a preliminary injunction against a Chobani, L.L.C. advertising campaign for its Simply 100 Greek yogurt.

General Mills, Inc. and Dannon both had sought temporary injunctions, which were granted in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of New York. The court ruled Chobani was free to promote the value of selecting natural ingredients, but said it was false to say that sucralose renders Dannon’s Light & Fit Greek yogurt unsafe to consume and that potassium sorbate renders General Mills’ Yoplait Greek 100 unsafe to consume.

“We are pleased with the court’s decision granting a preliminary injunction to stop this misleading advertising, which is causing fear about safe ingredients, and we look forward to full and final resolution of this matter,” Dannon said in a statement. “Dannon considers this first step a victory for consumers who love Light & Fit.”

The company, a business unit of Groupe Danone and based in White Plains, N.Y., added, “Since 1942, we have worked hard to build a trustworthy Dannon brand based on quality products. We take all attacks on the reputation of our Light & Fit products as well as our brand seriously and will work to ensure our competitors are truthful and not misleading in their advertising.”

Mike Siemienas, General Mills
Mike Siemienas, manager of brand media relations for General Mills

Mike Siemienas, manager of brand media relations for Minneapolis-based General Mills, said, “We are pleased by today’s court ruling requiring Chobani to stop their false ad campaign attacking Yoplait Greek 100 yogurt. General Mills supports fair and vigorous competition between companies, but false advertising only misleads and harms consumers.”

Chobani, Norwich, N.Y., said it respects the court’s preliminary decision and that it will continue to provide consumers more information about natural ingredients versus artificial ingredients.

Peter McGuinness, c.m.o. and brand officer for Chobani

“This is not a marketing campaign,” said Peter McGuinness, chief marketing officer and brand officer, Chobani. “It’s a mindset campaign, and it outlines the difference between using only natural ingredients versus artificial ingredients. While we’re disappointed by the preliminary ruling, we’re committed to continuing the conversation, and it’s good to see big food companies like General Mills starting to remove artificial ingredients from some of their products, like their cereals. In the end, if we can give more people more information while helping other companies make better food, everyone wins.”

The Chobani advertising campaign, which began Jan. 6, included a video advertisement, a print advertisement and digital/social media content.

The campaign referred to Dannon Light & Fit Greek yogurt containing artificial sweeteners like sucralose. The ad stated: “Sucralose? Why? That stuff has chlorine added to it!” The video showed a woman by a swimming pool. She threw a cup of Light & Fit Greek yogurt into a distant receptacle that resembled a trash can and was labeled “towels.” The campaign also contained the hashtag #NOBADSTUFF.

The court pointed out the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved sucralose as a zero-calorie, non-nutritive sweetener since 1999. In the manufacturing of sucralose, three chlorine atoms are substituted for three hydrogen-oxygen groups on a sucrose molecule. The trio of chlorine atoms is known as a “chloride” in the scientific community. It differs from the chlorine found in swimming pools: calcium hypochlorite. That chlorine, a bleach and disinfectant, is harmful if added to food or ingested.

“This substance is distinct both chemically and practically from the chlorine atoms found in sucralose,” the court ruling said. “Calcium hypochlorite is not found in, or used to manufacture, any of Dannon’s products.”

The Chobani ad campaign also focused on potassium sorbate, which is used as a preservative in Yoplait Greek 100. The Chobani ad stated: “Potassium sorbate? Really? That stuff is used to kill bugs.”

General Mills originally filed suit Jan. 12 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, but the venue was moved to the U.S. District Court, Northern District of New York. The court on Jan. 29 noted the F.D.A. has ruled potassium sorbate, a potassium salt of sorbic acid, as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS). The court also noted the U.S. Department of Agriculture has said that sorbic acid and its salts like potassium sorbate have been found to be non-toxic, even when taken in large quantities, and they break down into water and carbon dioxide.