'Blind fury' prompted former co-packer's recent lawsuit over protein content and methylcellulose, argues Beyond Meat

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Don Lee’s “vindictive and retaliatory” claims vs Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown are “not grounded in law or fact" claims the firm. Image credit: Beyond Meat
Don Lee’s “vindictive and retaliatory” claims vs Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown are “not grounded in law or fact" claims the firm. Image credit: Beyond Meat

Related tags: Beyond meat, Don Lee Farms, plant-based, Methyl cellulose, protein labeling

A lawsuit* recently filed by former co-packer Don Lee Farms accusing Beyond Meat of “grossly” overstating the protein in its products is motivated by “personal vendetta" and should be seen as a “transparent attempt to gain leverage” on the eve of the parties’ upcoming trial** over the early termination of their supply agreement, argues Beyond Meat in court documents filed August 5.

According to a lawsuit​​​ filed by Don Lee in June, independent testing found that the average PDCAAS (protein quality and digestibility) score of Beyond Burgers on the market was 0.8875. If you calculate the Percentage Daily Value (%DV) for protein accordingly, said Don Lee, it should be 35.49%, not 40%, as stated on the label.

The discrepancy between the actual and stated %DV for protein in other Beyond Meat products is higher, claimed Don Lee, which said that based on a PDCAAS of 0.645 determined by third party testing, the protein %DV for Beyond Beefy Crumbles should be 20%, not 26%, as stated on the label.

'Personal vendetta'

In its motion to dismiss the case​, Beyond Meat alleged that Don Lee Farms' bosses “became blind with fury​” following the early termination of their five-year exclusive supply agreement in spring 2017, which prompted an ugly legal battle between the parties set to go to trial this September.

Don Lee’s “vindictive and retaliatory​” claims in the protein lawsuit are “not grounded in law or fact, but stem from DLF’s president’s Donald Goodman’s personal vendetta against Brown” ​and are a “transparent attempt to gain leverage on the eve of trial," ​alleged Beyond Meat, which did not address the lawsuit’s detailed allegations about protein​ or claims that it falsely presents its products as ‘made without synthetically produced ingredients,’ and 'all-natural' despite using methylcellulose.

It instead urged the court to toss the case on the grounds that the statute of limitations has passed (which it claims should be three years in this case under a doctrine called laches) and that Don Lee is acting in bad faith, given that as a former co-packer, it has been aware of Beyond Meat’s ingredients and nutrition labels for years, without raising any objections.

'On the eve of trial... Don Lee Farms suddenly raises these claims?'

Put another way, said Beyond Meat, Don Lee has known Beyond Meat uses methylcellulose for at least six years, but has only now decided to take issue with it: “Don Lee Farms laid in wait for six years and said nothing. Then on the eve of trial in their long-running dispute with Beyond Meat, Don Lee Farms suddenly raises these claims?”

As for the protein claims, said Beyond Meat, “The complaint does not articulate a single reason why Don Lee Farms delayed testing Beyond Meat’s products for more than six years.”

Finally, added Beyond Meat, Don Lee Farms “has not alleged (and cannot show) that consumers actually relied on statements related to synthetic ingredients or daily protein value in choosing Beyond Meat over DLF’s products and, as a result, cannot show a causal link between any purported misrepresentation and their claimed injury.”

Don Lee Farms: It's 'telling' that Beyond Meat does not address the protein claims

Don Lee Farms sent a statement to FoodNavigator-USA noting that bosses are "confident that our claims are both timely and meritorious.

"Our complaint is backed by extensive facts and legal support. Tellingly, despite trying to distract the court with irrelevant allegations about the parties’ history, Beyond Meat does not show that its advertising was true or that its protein and other claims are accurate.  We look forward to responding to the motion and proceeding with our case."

*The case is Don Lee Farms vs Beyond Meat Inc and Ethan Brown. 2:22-cv-03751 filed June 2, 2022, in the US district court, central district of California.

Beyond Meat has not yet responded to a separate consumer class action in Illinois making similar allegations (Adam Sorkin et al. v Beyond Meat Inc. 1:22-cv-02861 filed May 31, 2022)

**A trial date has been scheduled for September 26 to address a dispute between Beyond Meat and Don Lee Farms over the early termination of an exclusive supply agreement between the two. Read more about the case HERE​.

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