Strong sales of Danone's Activia and Actimel brands have prevented the struggling functional food and drink category from slipping into the red, according to new figures.

Sales of Activia yoghurt increased 38.3% to £182.9m, while probiotic yoghurt drink Actimel rose 1.7% to £109m [Nielsen 52w/e February 2009].

The brands boosted value sales in the digestive health sub-category by 11.3%, which helped lift

value in the overall functional food and drink sector by 7%. However, the £51m growth of Activia outstripped the £32m growth in the functional sector recorded by TNS figures, which cover the year to

22 February 2009 - although the latter figure does not include impulse sales.

Volume sales of cholesterol-improving products such as Flora Pro.activ fell 19.8%. Those in the 'bone' sub-category, which include Petits Filous, slumped 6.6%.

Activia and Actimel were finding more success than other functional products because consumers felt the brands had more credibility said Trevor Datson, external communications director at Danone.

"Some of our competitors push the science of their product on to shoppers, and good luck to them. We have some scientific information on pack but choose not to go too heavy with it. It's more about credibility. If you can deliver on a brand promise then consumers will believe you and buy the product again."

He said Activia Intensely Creamy - which was launched in September 2008 - was driving sales of the brand as consumers wanted an "indulgent dessert that was also healthy". A new vanilla flavour is to join the line-up in two weeks.

Although Activia and Actimel carried higher price tags than their functional dairy rivals, Datson claimed Danone had shielded consumers from the full effects of dairy costs inflation.

"Because Activia and Actimel are made in Danone's French HQ, input costs have been protected from the weak exchange rate," he explained.