Chobani LLC needs to halt marketing that bashes rivals' use of some artificial ingredients in light Greek yogurts, a judge ordered Friday, but the company says it has already stopped running such ads and vowed to "fight the good fight' as the cases proceed.
In early January, Chobani began running commercials for its Simply 100 Greek yogurt, calling out some of the artificial ingredients found in Yoplait Greek 100 and Dannon Light & Fit Greek. A full-page print advertisement also focused on the rivals' ingredients. General Mills, which makes Yoplait, and dairy company Dannon, swiftly sued.
On Friday, U.S. District Judge David Hurd granted motions from both General Mills and Dannon seeking preliminary injunctions. Chobani may not make certain claims about its rivals in marketing and advertising, such as what the judge called false messages "that sucralose renders Dannon's products unsafe to consume" or "that potassium sorbate renders Yoplait Greek 100 unsafe to consume."
Still, "Chobani is free to continue to spread its message about the value of selecting natural ingredients," the judge wrote in each of the orders.
Chobani, in a statement titled "Chobani Continues to Fight the Good Fight," said it would continue to promote the use of only natural ingredients.
"This is not a marketing campaign, it's a mindset campaign, and it outlines the difference between using only natural ingredients versus artificial ingredients," said Chobani Chief Marketing and Brand Officer Peter McGuinness. "While we're disappointed by the preliminary ruling, we're committed to continuing the conversation and it's good to see big food companies like General Mills starting to remove artificial ingredients from some of their products, like their cereals. In the end, if we can give more people more information while helping other food companies make better food, everyone wins."
The commercials in question, two 30-second spots (below) that began running in early January, are no longer on the air. Instead, Chobani is using 15-second spots that do not call out the rivals. Also, its print ad has not been repeated since earlier this month.
General Mills and Dannon expressed satisfaction with the court's ruling.
"We are pleased by today's court ruling requiring Chobani to stop their false ad campaign attacking Yoplait Greek 100 yogurt. General Mills supports fair and vigorous competition between companies, but false advertising only misleads and harms consumers." -- General Mills spokesman Mike Siemienas
Dannon said Chobani's "misleading advertising" was causing fear about safe ingredients.
"Dannon considers this first step a victory for consumers who love Light & Fit. Contrary to what Chobani has said, its Simply 100 ad campaign is not about providing consumers with choice. We have always used only safe ingredients to make a wide variety of yogurts that are enjoyed every day by millions of people … We take all attacks on the reputation of our Light & Fit products as well as our brand seriously, and will work to ensure our competitors are truthful and not misleading in their advertising." -- Dannon spokesman Michael Neuwirth
Chobani has been offering $1 off coupons on its web site where it showed the different ingredients in the three yogurt brands. Now, the Greek yogurt maker's online marketing is set to ask other food makers to join its mission of using only natural ingredients. Coincidentally, Yoplait maker General Mills recently began boasting about removing artificial flavors and colors from cereals such as Trix.
Here are the 30-second commercials that Chobani said it has already stopped airing: