But sales remain strong, insists the company, which is hoping for a fresh start with Target following positive news from the FDA.
In a statement issued just over six weeks after Target abruptly dropped Hampton Creek products after receiving anonymous information alleging (according to Bloomberg) “manipulation and adulteration” of products… “pathogens in a manufacturing facility” and “allegations that products had tested positive for salmonella and listeria,” Hampton Creek said the FDA had looked into the matter, and agreed that there was no case to answer.
“More than a month ago, Target was led to believe that several of our products were mislabeled or unsafe,” said the San Francisco-based company.
“We’ve remained confident that our products were safe and properly labeled, and that when presented with the facts, the FDA would agree. As expected, they have. They informed us, after reviewing applicable evidence, that the matter is closed.
"We’ve reached out to Target to determine the steps needed to get back on shelves and restore our partnership.”
A spokesman confirmed that Hampton Creek had voluntarily recalled selected baking mixes in summer 2016 after salmonella was detected in one of its raw materials.
However, the allegations that prompted Target’s unilateral action in 2017 were completely baseless, he said, noting that Hampton Creek had an aggressive microbiological and quality testing program and a hold and release program for finished products.
He added: “Our food safety systems are best in class.”
“Hampton Creek products remain under review at Target. As a matter of policy, Target doesn't comment on discussions with our vendors and has no update to share at this time.”
Jenna Reck, senior public relations manager, Target
Target was the only retailer to act
Hampton Creek has not speculated on the source of the allegations cited by Bloomberg, but Target’s decision to drop its products – which Hampton Creek claims had been performing strongly at the retailer – raised a lot of questions, not least because no other retailer chose to follow suit after reviewing the evidence.
The FDA has not yet responded to our request for comment, but a person with knowledge of the incident told FoodNavigator-USA that Target’s decision to unilaterally ditch the products before giving Hampton Creek the opportunity to address its concerns was very unusual.
The source also claimed that at least one other major retailer had received the same anonymous letter that was sent to Target, but chose to weigh up the evidence before deciding to drop the brand.
Hampton Creek would not comment on who it believed was behind the allegations reported in Bloomberg – but is understood to be weighing its legal options against the sender (or senders) of the anonymous letters in question.
A rollercoaster ride
Back in March, Hampton Creek’s CEO Josh Tetrick said that the DOJ and the SEC had found no evidence of wrongdoing in the wake of damaging allegations that the company had orchestrated an internal buyback scheme in 2014 designed to artificially inflate its sales figures.
However, it has struggled to build on this positive news in recent weeks amid a flurry of departures from its senior team.
There have also been reports that some investors have been concerned that Hampton Creek’s decision to enter the clean (cultured) meat space risks diverting resources from its plant-based innovation strategy - which the spokesman strenuously denied.
According to Bloomberg (click HERE and HERE), Hampton Creek has parted company with its CTO, CFO, HR director, and most of its board members in the space of three months, but the spokesman rejected reports that the company was in a state of turmoil, adding: “We’ve filled every position except the CTO role and our interim CTO has been doing a phenomenal job.”
From a standing start in 2013, Hampton Creek’s products – from plant-based mayonnaise Just Mayo to cookies, cookie dough and salad dressings - have now reached “100,000+ points of retail and food service distribution, including 3,300 K12 schools, 500+ universities and colleges, fortune 500 cafes, stadiums, athletic arenas, government agencies,” he said.
“Our growth is strong and our retail performance is better than it's ever been and we're surpassing national brand incumbents in the largest mass retailers in several categories.”
Hampton Creek has unveiled a colorful new look for its plant-based brand. But what do branding experts think of the redesign?