This Day in Jewish History

1916: Maker of Yogurt for 'Happy Digestion' Is Born

Daniel Carasso took the Spanish yogurt manufacturer his father founded in 1919 and expanded it into the modern-day Danone Group.

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December 16, 1905 is the birthday of Daniel Carasso, who took the Spanish yogurt manufacturer founded by his father in 1919 and expanded it into what is today called the Danone Group, which markets its products in 140 countries.

Daniel Carasso was born in Saloniki (today, Thessaloniki, Greece), to a family that had emigrated from Spain to the Ottoman Empire at the time of the Inquisition. In 1916, in the wake of the Balkan Wars, when Saloniki passed from Ottoman to Greek hands, his father, Isaac Carasso, moved the family, first to Switzerland and then to Barcelona.

After learning the basics of yogurt production in Switzerland, Isaac set up his own company in Barcelona. He was taken by the idea that the lactic-acid bacilli found in yogurt could be a boon to human health, particularly in fighting intestinal disorders among children. Carasso acquired cultures of the bacteria from the Pasteur Institute in Paris, and introduced them into his product, which initially was sold only in pharmacies. He named the company after his only son, Daniel, whose nickname in Catalan was “Danone.”

In 1923, Daniel Carasso went to study business in Marseille. Two years later, he added to that a course in bacteriology at the Pasteur Institute, before opening a branch of his father’s company in France, in 1929. Initially, Daniel tried selling a pill, Vigardyne, with the active ingredients of yogurt. Soon, he began selling yogurt in porcelain pots, marketing it as a health food that was a “dessert for happy digestion.”

In 1941, after the German occupation of France, Daniel, newly married, fled to the United States. He left control of the French company in the hands of two non-Jewish friends, Norbert Lafont and Luis Portabella.

Shortly after arriving in New York, Daniel Carasso and two American partners bought a small family-owned yogurt company, Oxy-Gala, which they renamed Dannon, an Americanized version of “Danone.” In 1947, they added strawberries to the mix, to make the sour, fermented dairy product more palatable to local tastes. “Fruit on the bottom” became a Dannon slogan, other flavors were added, and the product became a hit.

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Dannon was bought by the American firm Beatrice Foods in 1959, by which time Daniel had moved back to Paris and resumed management of the European branch. In 1965, Danone merged with Gervais, a producer of fresh cheese products, and seven years later, with the bottle manufacturer BSN, headed by Antoine Riboud. After Danone-Riboud bought back the American Dannon from Beatrice Foods, in 1981, it renamed the international company the Danone Group.

Today, after several reorganizations, the Danone Group is a multinational manufacturer of dairy products, including yogurt, and of bottled water and baby foods, with annual revenues exceeding 20 billion euros. It is headed by Franck Riboud, the son of Daniel’s former partner, Antoine Riboud. In Israel, the group owns a 20 percent share of the Strauss Group, which has held the license to produce Danone products here since the 1970s.

Daniel Carasso died at his home in Paris, on May 17, 2009, at the age of 103.

Twitter: @davidbeegreen