Yogurt is considered healthy, a source of protein and calcium, and good for bones. But it doesn't relieve constipation or prevent colds and flu - as Dannon Co. Inc.'s advertising claimed.
So the company agreed Wednesday to settle deceptive-marketing charges related to two popular products - Activia yogurt and DanActive dairy drink - and pay $21 million to 39 states, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.
Dannon had asserted that a single daily serving of Activia could ease irregularity, and that DanActive could help ward off colds and flu. Some TV spots featured actress Jamie Lee Curtis.
New Jersey Attorney General Paula T. Dow called it the largest multistate settlement in a food-product case.
Pennsylvania and New Jersey each will receive $425,000 to be used for investigation and litigation costs and future consumer-education and consumer-protection activities.
The Federal Trade Commission, in cooperation with the states, said Dannon misleadingly claimed that a single serving a day of Activia for two weeks improved digestion, while studies showed it took significantly more - three daily servings - to achieve digestive benefits.
Dannon also claimed that its DanActive beverage would provide "immunity" benefits.
The advertising was deceptive because the claims lacked scientific proof, the FTC said.
In a statement Wednesday, Dannon said it would continue to advertise the "core benefits" of its products: that Activia helps to regulate the digestive system and DanActive helps to support the immune system.
"Dannon agreed to more clearly convey that Activia's beneficial effects on irregularity and transit time are confirmed on three servings per day," the company said. "Dannon also agreed that DanActive will not be marketed as a cold or flu remedy, which Dannon maintains it has never done."
Dannon said it settled the lawsuit to avoid the distraction of ongoing litigation and added, "Dannon does not admit any wrongdoing."
In September 2009, Dannon settled a separate class-action consumer lawsuit and agreed to pay up to $35 million for alleged misleading advertising of its yogurt products.
That agreement required Dannon to remove the words clinically and/ or scientifically proven from labels and ads of Activia, and, in their place, substitute "clinical studies show" or something similar.
Dannon agreed then to remove the word immunity from DanActive labels and ads, and to include a qualifier "when eaten regularly as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle," according to the court order.