UPDATED Jan. 12. General Mills, maker of Yoplait yogurts, sues Chobani, according to startribune.com.
Beneath the healthy halo of yogurt are bare-knuckled brawlers throwing mud at the competition and defending their turf.
In full-page newspaper ads in The New York Times and about a dozen other Sunday papers (and in television commercials), New York-based Chobani accuses fellow New Yorker Dannon and Minnesota-based Yoplait of putting “bad stuff” in their yogurt. Download the complete ad here.
Chobani is referring to potassium sorbate in Yoplait Greek 100 (a General Mills brand) and sucralose in Dannon Light & Fit Greek. What Chobani leaves out is that both ingredients are legal to use. The ad states that potassium sorbate is used to kill bugs and that sucralose contains chlorine.
While Chobani claims it uses only natural ingredients, it ignores the fact that the other yogurt makers use other sweeteners in some of their ptjer brands; sugar in the case of Yoplait and stevia in the case of Dannon’s Oikos Triple Zero.
Dannon is ‘very disappointed’ in the Chobani campaign
The reactions from Dannon and Yoplait were swift and predictable.
“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,” Michael J. Neuwirth, Dannon’s Senior Director of Public Relations told Dairy Foods. “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. “
Neuwith added that sucralose is an FDA-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.”
Yoplait made its own comparisons to Chobani
General Mills spokesperson Mike Siemienas told Dairy Foods, “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.”
But Yoplait isn’t above making comparisons to rivals. In 2014, Yoplait held yogurt “taste offs” around the country, asking consumers to compare Yoplait Greek yogurt to Chobani’s fruit-on-the-bottom products. Naturally, Yoplait won.
We'll see you in court
According to a press release, Chobani today filed an action against Dannon in the United States District Court Northern District of New York “following statements made by Dannon in response to certain Chobani advertising campaigns. Chobani is seeking a declaration from the Court that Chobani's advertising for its Chobani Simply 100 Greek Yogurt products is not false, misleading, disparaging or deceptive and that Chobani's reliance on the USDA nutrient database to support its claims that its Greek Yogurt contains substantially less sugar than regular yogurt are not false or misleading.” Read the complaint here.
Consumer attitudes about artificial ingredients in foods
In a statement, Chobani Chief Marketing and Brand Officer Peter McGuinness said, "Consumers have the right to know what's in their cup. This campaign is fundamentally about choice—the choice between natural ingredients versus artificial ingredients. We're empowering consumers with facts and information to help them make more informed decisions when they're buying food for themselves and their family. We know people are concerned about artificial sweeteners in their food, and this campaign is about giving them truthful and accurate information."
Chobani claims its products are aligned with what American consumers are looking for. A company representative provided research showing that 93% of light yogurt eaters prefer natural over artificial, 84% of Americans buy “free-from” foods because they believe them to be more natural or less processed and nearly 50% of U.S. consumers prefer to eat foods without artificial additives.
Buy bulk packages and make your own servings of yogurt
Chobani said it is only making comparisons to national brands in the light Greek yogurt category, that is Yoplait Greek 100 and Dannon Light & Fit Greek. But if consumers expanded that view, they would find more options. According to a Dairy Foods analysis of nutrition labels and ingredient statements, consumers would come out ahead by making their own single servings from bulk (16- or 32-ounce) packages of yogurt.
A 5.3-ounce cup (150 grams) of Chobani Simply 100 has 12 grams of protein and 7 grams of sugar. But a consumer who scoops out a 100-calorie serving (187 grams) from a bulk package of Dannon’s unsweetened plain Oikos Greek yogurt gets 22 grams of protein and 7.48 grams of sugar.