Nestle Purina PetCare Co. has filed a lawsuit in federal court in St. Louis against The Blue Buffalo Co. Ltd. for alleged false advertising, disparagement and unjust enrichment—including violations of the Federal Lanham Act. A copy of the complaint and exhibits can be found here.
“This is not an action we take lightly,” said Steven Crimmins, VP and chief marketing officer of Nestle Purina. “We believe consumers deserve honesty when it comes to the ingredients in the food they choose to feed their pets. Our commitment to owners and their pets is not a marketing ploy or advertising slogan. At Purina, what goes in the bag goes on the label.”
Blue Buffalo’s promotion, advertising and packaging repeatedly and unequivocally state that its pet food products contain “NO Chicken/Poultry By-Product Meals,” according to Purina. In its complaint, Purina alleges that testing conducted by an independent laboratory revealed that several of Blue Buffalo’s top-selling “Life Protection” pet food products contained significant percentages of poultry by-product meal. Testing was done from samples of multiple formulas of Blue Buffalo pet food purchased at retail stores on both the East and West Coasts, Purina says. Further details on the testing can be found in the complaint.
Independent testing, according to Purina, also shows that Blue Buffalo “LifeSource Bits” contain poultry by-product meal and corn. 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,” according to Purina.
The complaint estimates that Blue Buffalo spent approximately $50 million in 2013 to promote its claims that Blue Buffalo ingredients are superior to competitors. As a result, Blue Buffalo charges premium prices for its products—significantly more than the pet food products they use for comparison purposes on the Blue Buffalo website, Purina says.
Purina reports the lawsuit follows a March 2014 decision of the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, which found that Blue Buffalo is engaging in misleading advertising practices with respect to its claims about competing products. The NAD decision recommended that Blue Buffalo correct its television ad campaigns by removing all of its allegations that Blue Buffalo’s competitors are misleading consumers. A copy of the NAD decision was attached as an exhibit to the Purina complaint.
Blue Buffalo responds
The following statement has been issued by Bill Bishop, Blue Buffalo’s founder and chairman:
“Dear Pet Parents,
“I’m writing to you about the lawsuit Nestle Purina filed today alleging that Blue Buffalo has lied to you about the ingredients in our pet foods. We categorically deny all of these false allegations and will aggressively defend the integrity of our brand and our products. 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. It is quite another thing to prove those allegations.
“Please be assured that unlike Nestle Purina:
• Blue Buffalo does not use chicken by-product meal or poultry by-product meal in any of our products
• Blue Buffalo does not use ground corn in any our products
• Blue Buffalo does not use artificial preservatives in any of our products
“We will prove these and other matters in the court with good reliable evidence, and we look forward to disproving the voodoo science that Nestle Purina relied on to support their outrageous allegations.
“We’re disappointed to see one of the largest food companies in the world with over $100 billion in sales launching such a baseless lawsuit against a family-run company and attempting to prosecute it on the internet. In some ways this attack by Nestle Purina is not too surprising, since pet parents have demonstrated their preference by selecting true natural foods like Blue Buffalo instead of the by-product and corn-based pet foods Nestle Purina has been selling for years. In fact, their inability to compete successfully with natural pet foods is the key motivation for this frivolous lawsuit.
“My sons and I founded Blue Buffalo with the mission of bringing transparency to pet foods, and made the True Blue Promise to our pet parents. Clearly, some of our major competitors, who have built their business using lower cost ingredients, are upset. We will always stand behind our promise and our products.
“We have a saying at Blue Buffalo: ‘When we’re right, we fight.’ We look forward to seeing Nestle Purina in court.”