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|Country of origin||France|
|Country of origin||France|
Activia is a brand of yogurt owned by Danone ("The Dannon Company" in the United States) and introduced in France in 1987. As of 2013, Activia is present in more than 70 countries and on all 5 continents. Activia is classified as a functional food, designed to improve digestive health.
In the 1980s, Danone researchers took interest in bifidobacteria. They developed a specific strain that can survive in the acidic medium of yogurt. In addition to traditional yogurt bacteria, they decided to add a probiotic strain:Bifidus Actiregularis. Activia products thus contain Bifidobacterium animalis DN 173,010, a proprietary strain of Bifidobacterium, a probiotic which is marketed by Dannon under the trade names Bifidus Regularis, Bifidus Actiregularis, Bifidus Digestivum and Bifidobacterium Lactis. Danone launched Activia in France in 1987 under the "Bio" brand name.
Activia products are sold with different textures (set or firm, stirred, drinkable...) and in flavors adapted to local consumer preferences. The product line varies by country. Most Activia yogurts contain real fruit.
In Finland the Activia brand includes fruit and natural yogurt as well as yogurt drinks. Lactose free forms of the yogurt are also sold.
In Spain there are over 56 different flavors. Following a European law which forbids non-organic food to be labeled "Bio", Danone changed Spanish "Bio"-branded products to the "Activia" brand in order to comply with the law.
In Russia, the products include yogurt, yogurt drinks and kefir, a drink traditionally popular in Commonwealth of Independent States countries. The fiber yogurt series includes three muesli flavors in addition to the oat cereal flavor found in the US and UK. Drinkable yogurt variations include pineapple and dried apricot, among others.
In Britain and Republic of Ireland, the Activia range includes :
In 2006, Activia sales reached $130 million, in the US alone. The following year, sales increased by 50% in the US market.
In 2009, sales of Activia reach €2.6 billion globally, with key markets in Europe and the United States. Activia's popularity in the United States is due to the growing public demand for natural products as well as the growing market of probiotics that came into vogue in the late 1990s.
In 2011, Activia is the largest global fresh dairy brand in the world (Nielsen data). The probiotic yogurt market is valued at €4 billion.
Activia products are considered as functional foods. These foods are enriched with probiotics and provide health benefits when consumed in adequate amounts. The positive effects depend on the specific strain, and its dose.
In 2003, the probiotics (also called functional foods) market was worth $9.9 billion. These products are also heavily marketed and more expensive than non-probiotic dairy products.
In 2009, in United Kingdom, 60% of households regularly bought probiotic drinks. The market there is currently worth £164m per year.
Consumers are willing to pay for products that provide health benefits. Activia products, that are considered as functional foods, are priced about two dollars higher than other yogurts.
In 2011, in Germany, Danone moved from polystyrene to PLA Ingeo, a new material for its Activia yogurt cup. This packaging is made of plastic from plants, not oil. To develop this innovative material, the French manufacturer worked closely with NatureWorks. Danone and NatureWorks also want to achieve the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC) designation for this new Activia packaging. This packaging change has been implemented for about 80% of the volume of all Activia products in the German market.
Since Activia's launch, the Danone Group focused Activia communication on probiotics and health benefits. The WHO defines probiotics as "live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host". Consumers bought Activia products mostly for its medicinal qualities.
In 2010, Dannon partenered with actress Jamie Lee Curtis to promote Activia products. On the screen, the audience could read "scientifically proven" to reduce irregularity. According to the brand, Activia "helps regulate your digestive system" when eaten on a daily basis. Danone used health claims as a marketing tool.
But Danone has been accused of deceptive advertising.
Further the US litigation and the EU health claims law, and just before the decision of the EFSA on Activia, Danone thus decided to change Activia communication and marketing. Advertising does not talk about health benefits anymore but about pleasure and taste. On Danone's website, one can read : "Drinking and eating are, first and foremost, a source of pleasure, and while the initial purchase of a product may be motivated by a health benefit, in the majority of cases, a repeat purchase is motivated by the taste".
The US FDA pressed charges for false advertising.
According to Danone, Activia is based on 17 scientific studies. But according to CBS News, two of these studies were not statistically significant compared to the placebo groups and six others didn't show a statistically significant improvement in transit time.
In 2006, a European regulation demanded that health food companies come up with the scientific evidence to back their labeling and advertising. Member states were asked to submit health claims from manufacturers who had to wait for the approval of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). EFSA currently verifies all functional foods claims. Most of the time, EFSA rejects companies' claims due to the lack of scientific evidence.
In 2010, following a stream of negative opinions from EFSA for other health claims, Dannon decided to withdraw claims on Activia.
In its marketing for Activia, Danone claimed that Bifidobacterium animalis relieves irregularity.
In the 2010 Activia TV commercials, a voiceover explains : "Activia eaten every day is clinically proven to help regulate your digestive system in two weeks”. Dannon said it had scientific evidence to back up its assertions.
But according to the Federal Trade Commission, commercials and claims on Activia packages are deceptive and Dannon exaggerates the yogurt's health benefits. In its 2010 charges against Dannon, the FTC stated that "Eating one serving of Activia daily is not clinically proven to relieve temporary irregularity and help with slow intestinal transit time". In fact, consumers must eat three servings of Activia each day to obtain health benefits.
In December 2010, The Dannon Company settled allegations of false advertising. In the settlement, Dannon dropped its claims of the health benefits of its Activia yogurt. The company thus agreed to stop advertising that Activia yogurt improves motility, unless the ad conveys that three servings must be eaten per day to obtain these benefits. Dannon therefore removed the words "clinically" and "scientifically proven" from Activia products.
Dannon agreed to pay US$21 million to 39 states that had coordinated investigations with the FTC. In response to a similar lawsuit in Canada, Danone agreed to settle the suit by paying compensation and modifying its advertising.
A class action lawsuit filed in Los Angeles federal court on 25 January 2008, argued that Dannon's own studies failed to support its advertised claims. The class action suit accused Danone of mounting a massive false advertising campaign to convince consumers to buy Activia products because of their health benefits.
In a statement in response to the lawsuit, Dannon stated that it "strongly disagrees with the allegations in the lawsuit" and that it makes all scientific studies about its products available to the public, following the established method of peer-review and publication. According to the group:"All of Dannon's claims for Activia and DanActive are completely supported by peer-reviewed science and are in accordance with all laws and regulations".
Dannon spokespeople deny the claims of the lawsuit and admitted no wrongdoing as part of the settlement, which was agreed to in order to avoid the distraction and expense of litigation. As of September 2012[update], this fund has only paid out about US$1 million in reimbursements to consumers.
In October 2009, Danone was sued in Quebec Superior Court over the nature of the health claims in its advertising. The company had asserted that Activia yogurt could improve digestion or prevent the common cold. In September 2012, the parties elected to settle the case; Danone agreed to modify its advertising claims, but was not forced to admit wrongdoing. Consumers who purchased Activia yogurt between 1 April 2009 and 6 Nov 2012 had 90 days to request compensation between C$15 to C$50, based on the quantity purchased.