General Mills rapped over probiotic yoghurt ads

The US National Advertising Division has told General Mills to change or withdraw advertising claims for its Yoplait Yo-Plus probiotic yoghurt following a complaint by rival Dannon.

The complaint centred on a campaign run by General Mills comparing the attributes of Yo-Plus with Dannon's own probiotic yoghurt range Activia. A chart used in the advertising suggested that the only difference between the two brands was that, in addition to a probiotic strain, Yo-Plus contained prebiotic fibre and vitamins A and D.

Slogans used in the General Mills campaign, which included broadcast, print and online advertising, included: "Only Yo-Plus has cultures plus fibre plus vitamins A and D" and "Once you digest the facts, you'll see why Yo-Plus yogurt comes out on top."

NAD, which is the American advertising industry's self-regulatory forum, said it believed comparing Yoplait Yo-Plus with Activia yoghurt in this way was misleading because it implied the products contained the same probiotic cultures.

Although both strains did come from the same family — Bifidobacteria — NAD said it considered them sufficiently different to render a direct comparison of this nature inappropriate. In addition, it said, the evidence used by each company to support their respective strain was different.

NAD said it had "determined that consumers could reasonably interpret the advertiser's chart?to mean that the probiotic cultures in Activia and Yo-Plus are the same and/or provide the same digestive health benefits, and that the only difference between the two yoghurts is that Yo-Plus, in addition to probiotic culture, provides other beneficial ingredients — a message not supported by the evidence in the record."

NAD recommended that, in future advertising, General Mills "avoid conveying the unsupported message that Yo-Plus contained the same probiotic ingredient or provided the same digestive health benefit as Activia."

NAD also asked General Mills to stop making a claim regarding the effect of the yoghurt on digestive health: "Helpnaturally regulate digestive health with Yo-Plus Digestive Health."

The organisation said General Mills had presented a "significant body of evidence" on its probiotic culture - Bifidobacterium animalis ssp lactis (Bb12) — including 17 studies. However, it had decided the results of the studies, "while sufficient to support ingredient claims for Bb12, were not sufficient to support a health-related product performance claim".

It recommended that, in future advertising, "the advertiser avoid communicating the unsupported message that the Yo-Plus product itself had been proven to help 'regulate digestive health', and limit any digestive health benefit claims to the ingredient Bb12."

NAD did say, however, that General Mills was free to promote the fact that its product contained an ingredient (Bb12) that had been shown to help regulate digestive health and that, unlike Activia, it also contained fibre, vitamin A and vitamin D.

General Mills, in its advertiser's statement, took issue with some of the NAD findings, but added that it "supports the self-regulatory process, and will take NAD's recommendations into account in future advertising."

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