A judge on Friday ordered Greek yogurt maker Chobani to pull an advertising campaign that takes aim at its rivals for using artificial preservatives and sweeteners.
Two separate but related court cases pit Chobani against Dannon and General Mills.
The two companies are Chobani’s biggest competitors: General Mills makes Yoplait, and Dannon makes Light & Fit Greek Yogurt.
At issue was a Chobani campaign called “Simply 100” that touted Chobani’s natural ingredients while jabbing at rival brands for using artificial ingredients.
General Mills and Dannon each sued Chobani. They claimed the ads were misleading consumers into thinking their products are unsafe.
In one Chobani commercial, a woman throws away a cup of Yoplait after discovering it contains potassium sorbate. “That stuff is used to kill bugs,” a voiceover says.
Another Chobani commercial features a woman who picks up Dannon Light & Fit Greek Yogurt while a voiceover says the product contains sucralose: “That stuff has chlorine added to it!”
After Friday’s court decision, issued by a federal judge in New York, Chobani will have to remove the video of the ads from the web — the commercials already ran their course on TV.
The court order also prohibits Chobani from making certain claims about rivals’ products in print and on social media.
Both General Mills and Dannon said they are “pleased” by Friday’s ruling.
“General Mills supports fair and vigorous competition between companies, but false advertising only misleads and harms consumers,” company spokesman Mike Siemienas said.
A spokesman for Dannon said it “considers this first step a victory for consumers who love Light & Fit.”
Under the judge’s ruling, Chobani is free to continue promoting the value of natural ingredients. It is not, however, allowed to send the false message that potassium sorbate renders Yoplait Greek 100 unsafe to consume.
On Friday, Chobani said it was “disappointed” in the ruling but was “committed to continuing the conversation.”
“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 Peter McGuinness, chief marketing and brand officer at Chobani.
The lawsuit is the latest skirmish in the Food Wars.
Consumers are increasingly avoiding food with artificial ingredients. Manufacturers and restaurant chains have responded, trying to capitalize on the trend by dropping chemicals from their products and menu items.
And brands big and small are sharpening their marketing campaigns to get the message out that their product is the most natural around.
In fact, General Mills has launched its own advertisements, called “Again,” that highlight the company’s commitment to remove petroleum-based coloring from its cereals, including its most colorful brands Trix and Lucky Charms.