Deceptive marketing and advertising sometimes gets punished, though not often enough, especially when it comes to food claims. Pinkberry, a frozen yogurt chain hit it big after opening its first store in West Hollywood when it started selling “chilly bliss” and “swirly goodness,” products it claimed to be healthy, nonfat, all-natural, but did not state what it contained. The unproven health benefits attributed to yogurt that were previously posted on the walls of Pinkberry (e.g., cures colon cancer, fights yeast infections) have since been removed. See this site.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture determined that Pinkberry, sold as yogurt, did not contain the requisite amount of bacterial cultures per ounce to fit the definition. According to the Los Angeles Times, Pinkberry’s product had only 69,000 bacterial cultures per gram, compared to 200,000 for Baskin-Robbins. The National Yogurt Association (NYA) established its own criteria for live and active culture yogurt. In order for manufacturers to carry their Live and Active Culture seal, refrigerated yogurt products must contain at least 100 million cultures per gram at the time of manufacture, and frozen yogurt products must contain 10 million cultures per gram at the time of manufacture. Pinkberry (and Red Mango, too) now enjoy the NYA seal of approval.
But the specific health benefits of live cultures, now called probiotics have not yet been determined. Even Dannon got in trouble over claims that the benefits of its probiotics were “clinically and scientifically” proven.
After a class action lawsuit was filed last year accusing the company of deceptive marketing, Pinkberry posted 23 ingredients on its website, including sugars, additives, preservatives, emulsifiers, artificial coloring and flavoring. The case was settled just two weeks ago, early April, 2008. According to the New York Times, Pinkberry agreed to donate $750,000 to hunger and children’s charities, but Ray Gallo, a lawyer for the plaintiff, remarked, “Personally, I would have preferred that the money go toward consumer advocacy against misleading food marketers.”