Posted: May 8, 2014, 9:25 a.m. EDT
By Clay Jackson
Advertising can deliver a good-natured ribbing like Taco Bell’s "Ronald McDonald” breakfast spots, but it also can be wielded forcefully by calling out another’s products like Blue Buffalo has done with Nestlé Purina PetCare Co. and other big pet food manufacturers.
Poke enough and a response is inevitable.
Nestlé Purina did respond in a May 6 announcement saying it had filed a lawsuit against Blue Buffalo in federal court in St. Louis because of Blue Buffalo’s claims that Nestlé Purina pet food uses inexpensive, subpar ingredients compared to its own pet food.
Nestlé Purina PetCare Company v. Blue Buffalo Company Ltd. alleges false advertising, disparagement and unjust enrichment by Blue Buffalo, a natural pet food company headquartered in Wilton, Conn.
In fact, consumers can go to Blue Buffalo’s website and compare Blue Buffalo to 14 competing brands, including several Nestlé Purina pet food brands.
Blue Buffalo Logo.
The brand-by-brand comparisons fall under Blue Buffalo’s True Blue Test and look at five areas: real meat as the first ingredient; vegetables and fruit included; no chicken or poultry byproduct meals; no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives; and no corn, wheat or soy.
Blue Buffalo is the only brand to receive across-the-board marks in the True Blue Test, with other brands earning anywhere from zero to two checks.
Nestlé Purina takes special umbrage with Blue Buffalo’s "no chicken (poultry) byproduct meals” claim, which Purina says is false and that it has the evidence to prove it.
"This is not an action we take lightly,” said Steven Crimmins, vice president and chief marketing officer of Nestlé Purina.
In its lawsuit, Nestlé Purina relies on the findings of an independent laboratory, which tested multiple formulas of Blue Buffalo food purchased from multiple retailers and found:
• Some of Blue Buffalo’s Life Protection Formula pet foods were found to contain high percentages of poultry byproduct meal;
• LifeSource Bits, vitamin-boosted dark kibble Blue Buffalo mixes in with other formulas, contain poultry byproduct meal and corn; and
• Several products promoted as "grain free” had rice hulls mixed in.
"Our commitment to owners and their pets is not a marketing ploy or advertising slogan,” Crimmins said.
"At Purina, what goes in the bag goes on the label,” he added.
In an open letter to Blue Buffalo customers, Bill Bishop, Blue Buffalo founder and chairman, said Purina’s independent test claims were based on "voodoo science.”
"We categorically deny all of these false allegations and will aggressively defend the integrity of our brand and our products,” Bishop stated.
"It is an easy thing to make unsubstantiated claims, put them in a lawsuit and then publish them all over the web to disparage and defame a company,” he continued. "It is quite another thing to prove those allegations.”
Bishop went so far as to say that Purina’s lawsuit really comes down to its "inability to compete” with natural pet foods, adding that "pet parents have demonstrated their preference by selecting true natural foods like Blue Buffalo instead of the byproduct and corn-based pet foods Nestlé Purina has been selling for years.”
This isn’t the first action taken against Blue Buffalo.
Hill’s Pet Nutrition Inc. of Topeka, Kan., complained about the misleading nature of Blue Buffalo’s True Blue Test—its online brand-comparison tool—and some of its other advertising.
Hill’s Science Diet is one of the brands featured in Blue Buffalo’s True Blue Test tool.
The National Advertising Division, a division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus in New York, found against Blue Buffalo, saying the company’s advertising "reasonably conveyed that leading pet food makers are misleading consumers by actively concealing the content of their products ... ”
"We believe consumers deserve honesty when it comes to the ingredients in the food they choose to feed their pets,” Crimmins said.
"We have a saying at Blue Buffalo: ‘When we’re right, we fight,’” Bishop said. "We look forward to seeing Nestlé Purina in court.”
"We are confident in our independent testing, and we look forward to proving our case in court,” Purina countered.
Industry Professional Site: Comments from non-industry professionals will be removed.