In April 2010, the French food group withdrew two applications for health claims it was making on Actimel and Activia products from the EU health and nutrition claims process. It also stopped making the claims on-pack in some European countries, such as France and the UK, whilst in other markets it switched to milder wording.
However, figures from Euromonitor International show that these changes haven’t affected sales.
“In 2010, despite the EU economy still being weakened by the financial crisis, sales of Activia in the region rose by 6%,” said Ewa Hudson, global head of health and wellness research at Euromonitor International. “While we cannot assess how sales would have behaved had the claims not been changed, in 2010 there was no apparent negative relation between the change in claims and sales.”
UK market data
The most overwhelming evidence that there is no link between sales and on-pack claims came from the UK, where Danone has switched from claiming Activia ‘aids digestion’ to making no claim at all.
Here, value sales grew by 24% to US$400m during 2010, according to Euromonitor.
Activia also fared well in Italy and Poland, two countries where Danone downgraded the claims it was making. In Italy, for example, the claim ‘Activia reduces bloating every day’ was replaced with ‘Activia is the only foodstuff to contain the exclusive Bifidus Actiregularis’.
France and Hungary were the weakest performing markets for Activia, registering growth of 1% and 4% respectively. However, these growth rates were in line with the previous year’s growth, said Hudson.
She speculates that this performance was due partly to heavy investment in advertising.
“I think Danone spent a lot of money on advertising,” she said. “It shows that their TLC campaign is working.”
She also suggests that Danone is reaping dividends from many years spent educating consumers about ‘good’ bacteria.
“For years, consumers have been informed about the digestive health benefits of Activia; now they are simply being reminded to eat Activia. What we don’t know is how long the legacy of the health messages will last.”
It is not yet known whether this positive performance continued into 2011, but Hudson is not overly optimistic.“Given that the impact might be delayed, as industry observers fear, the full 2011 figures, to be published in September 2012, may give a different picture,” she warned.