Danone told not to repeat probiotic immunity claim

In yet another blow for the beleaguered probiotics industry, the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled that an immunity health claim used in a TV advert for Danone's Actimel dairy shots was misleading.

The commercial, which was first aired in 2006, showed a bottle of Actimel jumping over a skipping rope, with the sound of children playing in the background. A voice-over stated: "Kids love Actimel and it's good for them, too. Actimel. Scientifically proven to help support your kids' defences". The advert was contested by a viewer who questioned the claim: "Scientifically proven to help support your kids' defences."

In its defence, Danone submitted five scientific studies to support the claim that the Lactobacillus casei bacteria in Actimel did benefit kids' immune systems. However, the ASA rejected two of these studies because they involved diseased rather than healthy children; one because it didn't examine immunity and was therefore considered irrelevant; another because it was in babies and was not considered pertinent for an advert the appeared to target school age children; and one because it did not show enough of a beneficial effect.

In conclusion the ASA, which is a voluntary industry-run regulator, said: "The evidence provided by Danone did not support the claim made in the ad that a serving of Actimel was scientifically proven to support the defences of normal, healthy school-aged children against common, every-day childhood infections. We therefore concluded that the ad was misleading. The ad must not be broadcast again in its current form."

The ruling received widespread media coverage in the UK, and came just two weeks after the European Food Safety Authority had rejected scores of Article 13.1 health claims for probiotics. Danone's strains were not among those evaluated by EFSA's scientists, but they will face scrutiny in the coming months.

Actimel, which was worth £109 million in the year to February 2009 according to Nielsen, is the UK's biggest selling probiotic dairy shot. Danone also markets the UK's second largest yoghurt brand — Activia — which contains the Bifidus digestivum probiotic strain, said to help prevent a bloated feeling in the stomach.

For more on the Actimel Ad campaign and marketing to SWELS, click here.

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