If you’re going to casually advertise that your competitor’s product contains an insecticide, you should probably expect to get sued. Just ask the lawyers at General Mills, who are none to happy about Chobani ads claiming that Yoplait’s competing yogurt contains a product used to “kill bugs.”
General Mills, which owns the Yoplait yogurt brand, filed the suit [PDF] Sunday in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, accusing Chobani of false advertising.
The ad campaign, which debuted Jan. 6, includes TV commercials, print advertisements in major newspapers, coupons, and a presence at fitness gyms that target other yogurt brands with similar 100-calorie options, including Yoplait and Dannon.
In the ad, Chobani notes that the Yoplait Greek-style yogurt contains the commonly used preservative potassium sorbate. But then the ads goes on to imply that this ingredient is actually a pesticide, saying it is “used to kill bugs.”
“The television commercial that leads the Chobani attack campaign goes so far 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,” the suit states.
The TV spot prominently displays Yoplait Greek 100, with a woman examining the package. At this point a voiceover states, “Yoplait Greek 100 actually uses preservatives like potassium sorbate.”
The narration then continues, “Really?! That stuff is used to kill bugs!” During this exchange, the woman’s face is pinched in a look of disgust as she further examines the Yoplait container; she then flings the container into the garbage.
General Mills contends that Chobani falsely claims that Yoplait is “toxic” because it contains potassium sorbate, a fungicide-like preservative that prevents yeast and mold growth.
“General Mills is informed and believes that there is no scientific evidence that potassium sorbate is effective against insects,” the company said in the suit, noting that potassium sorbate is considered safe by multiple federal agencies, according to the lawsuit.
The suit also takes issue with Chobani’s print and website advertisements for its 100-calorie yogurt. The print ads include references to “bad stuff” — preservatives — in General Mill’s Yoplait yogurt, while the Chobani website allegedly “falsely communicates that the potassium sorbate should be considered a ‘pesticide’ by consumers.”
General Mills claims in the suit that it has spent more than $900 million in marketing and advertising for its Yoplait products in the past five years and that Chobani’s campaign could do irreversible damage to the brand.
“The offending ads are therefore both literally false by necessary implication and highly misleading,” the suit states. “Unless Chobani is immediately enjoined, the Chobani Attack Campaign will irreparably harm General Mills and the goodwill it has developed over several years.”
General Mills’ lawsuit comes less than a week after Dannon threatened to sue the company over claims that its Light & Fit product contains sucralose, an artificial sweetener processed with “added chlorine,” the Star Tribune reports.
Before Dannon could head to court, Chobani sued the company in New York federal court asking for a declaration that its claims don’t constitute false and deceptive advertising. Dannon promptly countersued.
Peter McGuinness, Chobani’s chief marketing and brand officer, told the Star Tribune in a statement on Monday that he wasn’t surprised by the General Mills or Dannon lawsuits.
“I’m disappointed that Dannon and General Mills are focused on stopping people from having the facts about artificial sweeteners and artificial preservatives,” he said. “This campaign is about giving people truthful and accurate information so they can make more informed decisions about the food they buy.”