General Mills: Chobani’s 'wilfully deceptive' ads assert that safe & legal ingredients in rival products are toxic and unsafe

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Chobani's new ad campaign asserts that safe and legal ingredients are "unhealthy, unsafe, and unfit for human consumption" claims General Mills
Chobani's new ad campaign asserts that safe and legal ingredients are "unhealthy, unsafe, and unfit for human consumption" claims General Mills

Related tags: Advertising, Sugar substitute

The legal firestorm prompted by Chobani’s provocative new ad campaign for its Simply 100 Greek yogurt range has intensified this week as General Mills has filed a lawsuit accusing Chobani of false advertising and unfair competition.

Chobani’s campaign​ - which flags up the use of so-called ‘bad stuff’ in rival products and implies that Simply 100 is a better, healthier, choice – includes a print ad featuring a picture of Yoplait Greek 100, which opens with the question: “Did You Know Not All Yogurts Are Equally Good for You?  You think you are doing something good for yourself and your family…By buying yogurt instead of bad stuff…And then you find that the bad stuff…Is in your yogurt!”

Next to a picture of Yoplait Greek 100 it says: Look, there’s potassium sorbate as a preservative in Yoplait Greek 100. Potassium sorbate? Really? That stuff is used to kill bugs​.”(It goes on to highlight Dannon’s use of the artificial sweetener sucralose in Dannon Light & Fit Greek, which has already prompted a legal spat​). 

Gen Mills: Potassium sorbate is not used to ‘kill bugs’

According to General Mills, which owns the Yoplait brand, a TV commercial (see below) created as part of the new Simply 100 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​.”

And the Simply 100 website goes further, claims General Mills, which filed a civil action* in Minnesota on Sunday for false advertising under the Lanham Act, violations of the Minnesota Deceptive Trade Practices Act, and for common law unfair competition.

 “Chobani’s unambiguous assertion in its Simply 100 Website that Yoplait Greek 100 is unhealthy, unsafe, and unfit for human consumption because it contains potassium sorbate which is listed as a pesticide by the EPA, is false by implication and highly misleading.”

Chobani Simply100campaign-ad-Yoplait-comparison
Excerpt of an 'open letter' from Chobani appearing in leading newspapers this month

Gen Mills: Where is the evidence that potassium sorbate is 'bad stuff'?

Potassium sorbate is used in food as a preservative because it works as a fungicide to prevent yeast and mold, explains General Mills. Because fungi can also damage crops, it is used on crops for the same purpose. However, there is “no scientific evidence that potassium sorbate is effective against insects​”, it says.

While Chobani insists its ads merely give consumers "truthful and accurate information", ​the campaign does not just highlight the 'artificial' ingredients in rival products, but states that they are "bad stuff"​, says General Mills, which notes in its complaint that Greek 100 yogurt has notched up "net annual sales of approximately $200 million since launch".

 “The unifying theme and consistent falsehood that make up the Chobani Attack Campaign are that Yoplait Greek 100 is toxic and akin to bug spray because it contains the ingredient potassium sorbate. Contrary to what is portrayed in the Chobani Attack Campaign, potassium sorbate (used as a preservative in Yoplait Greek 100) 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. This is untrue.”

“[Chobani's TV ad] 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 (Yoplait)

Chobani: ‘This campaign is about giving consumers truthful and accurate information’

Asked about rivals’ reaction to the campaign, Chobani’s chief marketing and brand officer Peter McGuinness told FoodNavigator-USA: "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 preservatives. 

"This campaign is about giving people truthful and accurate information so they can make more informed decisions about the food they buy."

*The case is 0:16-cv-00052-MJD-BRT filed in the US District Court District Of Minnesota on Jan 10.

Watch one TV ad from the campaign below:

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