Earlier this month we wrote about a pet food industry spat between Blue Buffalo and Hills. A similar disagreement has now escalated into a lawsuit filed by Purina against Blue Buffalo.
Purina is making many of the same claims that Hills used. They maintain that Blue’s advertising has been deceptive and untrue, portraying Purina’s products as inferior when compared to Blue’s products.
Purina’s lawsuit contends that Blue Buffalo’s brand is built “on a platform of dishonesty and deception.” They have submitted independent test results to back up their claims. These test results show that some of Blue’s formulas include by-products, despite advertising to the contrary. The testing also shows the presence of grains in some of Blue’s grain-free formulas.
So what’s really going on here?
We won’t know for certain until the lawsuit is settled. From one perspective, it’s an interesting sideshow. Reading deeper into the arguments that both Hills and Purina used against Blue, it appears that much of this comes down to a matter of definitions.
The irony here is that consumers have been asking for improved ingredient definitions and transparency for years. Now it seems some of the Big Boys want that as well when it suits their needs.
Here’s an example of the double standard involved
Purina maintains that by-products are included in Blue’s fish formula because it uses Fish Meal. In response, Blue cites the AAFCO definiton of fish meal and fish by-products. Fish meal is made from whole fish.
A strict interpretation could support the view that no by-products have been added when fish meal is produced. But since by-products are part of the whole fish used to make fish meal (not added separately) there are indeed by-products in the food. So who’s right?
That’s why we have courts.
But wait, there’s more!
Another point of contention is that small percentages of rice or corn were found in some of Blue’s grain-free formulas and its patented LifeSource Bits, despite claims of being grain-free.
If proven true, this appears to be a more troubling accusation. It could reflect poor manufacturing practices (Blue contracts food production to a third party), poor testing result, or deceptive advertising. This will be interesting to watch. Particularly since Blue Buffalo has now filed a counter-suit against Purina.
The remaining complaints appear to take offense that Blue claims to have better quality food because they use better quality ingredients. The lawsuit also includes references to previous instances where Blue Buffalo has been compelled to adjust advertising claims which were found to be misleading.
However the verdict or settlement in this case is decided, there may be a silver lining included. If it increases public awareness of labeling, ingredient and marketing practices, perhaps we’ll all benefit from the outcome.
Time will tell.
You can read the complaint Purina filed in court here.
And, in an unrelated story, Natural Balance (now owned by Del Monte) has sued the H.J. Heinz company claiming tainted pet food ingredients were sold for use in Natural Balance products.