Translate This Blog

Saturday, July 12, 2014

War Of Words: Purina Vs. Blue Buffalo

There is a battle brewing between two major food companies, and it's not pretty.  Blue Buffalo and Nestle Purina PetCare are going to blows in the legal system in the US and the war of words is becoming ugly.
It started back in May when Purina sued Blue Buffalo over what Purina saw as misleading claims on Blue Buffalo packaging and in advertisements.  Purina had some of Blue Buffalo's foods put through independent analysis of the contents, and found evidence of ingredients that Blue Buffalo explicitly states are not in their foods.  According to an article in Veterinary Practice News:
Nestlé Purina reported that independent laboratory tests found "significant percentages” of poultry byproduct meal in several Blue Buffalo Life Protection recipes and discovered both poultry byproduct meal and corn in LifeSource Bits, a mixed-in blend of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Levels of poultry byproduct meal ranged from 25 percent in one sample of Indoor Health Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe for cats to 22 percent in a sample of Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe for adult dogs, according to the Nestlé Purina lawsuit.

"In addition, several Blue Buffalo products promoted as ‘grain-free’ actually contain rice hulls despite Blue Buffalo stating on its website that its
grain-free products will ‘free your pet from the grains and glutens that cause allergic reactions in some dogs,’” Nestlé Purina reported in a separate statement.
Blue Buffalo is obviously aggressively denying these claims and even calling Purina's analysis "voodoo science".  And if one lawsuit isn't enough, Blue Buffalo countersued for defamation, unfair competition, and false advertising.

"In response to Nestle Purina’s malicious attacks against us, we have initiated a lawsuit against them demanding that Nestlé Purina and the individuals working in concert with them be held accountable for their false accusations about Blue Buffalo and that their carefully orchestrated smear campaign against the Blue brand cease,” company founder Bill Bishop said.

Purina slammed the new allegations.

"Blue Buffalo’s lawsuit today is exactly what we expected: a distraction from the real issues in the case and an attempt to stop Purina from being honest with the

This isn't actually the first time Blue Buffalo has found itself in trouble for potentially misleading statements about their foods compared to competitors'.  Back in March the National Advertising Division (NAD) ruled against Blue Buffalo when Hill's claimed its commercials and websites were manipulative, misleading, and untrue.

"The challenger argued that all of the challenged advertising conveys the same falsely disparaging and inflammatory message: that ‘big name’ pet food manufacturers, including Hill’s, are actively [trying] to conceal the fact that they include chicken byproduct meal, instead of meat, as the first ingredient,” NAD stated.

The agency determined that the advertisements "reasonably conveyed that leading pet food makers are misleading consumers by actively concealing the content of their products and by positioning their products as high quality when they are not and that consumers should switch to Blue.”
And we can go back to 2008 for a similar complaint against Blue Buffalo (as stated in this 2009 article from Pet Product News).

The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus (NAD) claims the Wilton, Conn.-based manufacturer has declined to modify or discontinue its “no animal by-products” advertising claims. Blue Buffalo maintains that it has altered its advertising, but not its packaging, which the company claims NAD does not have authority over.

NAD reviewed advertising for the Blue line of pet food in July 2008 following a challenge by competing pet-food manufacturer Hill’s Pet Nutrition. NAD recommended that Blue Buffalo discontinue its “no animal by-products” claims when made in reference to pet foods containing fish meal, lamb meal and/or liver.

NAD noted that Blue Buffalo pet foods are made with liver, fish meal and lamb meal. Although Blue Buffalo did not disclose the composition of its fish and lamb meal, “the relevant regulatory guidelines make clear that these meals can include kidneys, intestines, eyeballs, brains and other viscera,” according to NAD. NAD found consumers would “expect that a food with ‘no animal by-products’ [would] not contain such ingredients.”

And while the company did handle the issue, there was a recall of some Blue Buffalo foods in 2010 for excessive vitamin D, leading to possible toxicities. 

Want one more opinion?  This past December I had conversations with Dr. Sherry Sanderson, a nutritionist and professor at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, about various pet foods.  I was surprised at how strongly she was against Blue Buffalo foods.  Her opinion is based on the vitamin D toxicity issue I mentioned above, as well as dishonesty from the company about their foods and their competitors'.  She is a university professor and doesn't work for a food company, so I think she's about as objective as you can get.  This summer I have a veterinary student from that college working for us, and she confirmed that Dr. Sanderson is recommending people against Blue Buffalo.

Now some may say that Purina is just trying to destroy a competitor by making slanderous statements, and thus trying to protect their own market share.  Certainly it does have a very "David versus Goliath" feel to it considering that Purina is the largest pet food manufacturer in the US.  But when taking all of the information together, I really have to start thinking that there really are issues with Blue Buffalo.  We have not only Purina's recent lawsuit, but two different decisions by the NAD against Blue Buffalo, a recall of their food, and a nutritional specialist against the company.  I have also never seen Hill's, Purina, or any other pet food company attack a competitor in this way.  Sure, each company says why their product is better than anyone else's, but in 17 years in practice I've never seen any company so consistently blasted for misleading or inaccurate statements.   Hills', Purina, Iams, Royal Canin, and others have never gone this far when trying to convince people that their food is best, and Purina has had opportunities to "crush" other up-and-coming companies. At some point where there is smoke there is probably fire. 

Needless to say, at this point I don't recommend that my clients use Blue Buffalo foods.  I'm also very curious as to what will come out in the lawsuit since Purina claims they have definitive proof of the ingredient analysis.