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Earlier this summer, vegan food start-up Hampton Creek‘s products – including its flagship ‘Just Mayo’ – were pulled from the shelves of Target stores in the US.
The mysterious circumstances surrounding the removal prompted the company, which is headed by CEO Josh Tetrick, to hire investigators to look into what was happening.
The removal was the latest in a series of problems which have dogged the start-up recently – included an ‘attempted coup’ by three former senior staff and ‘jokey threats’ by American Egg Board affiliates to ‘put a hit’ on Hampton Creek’s founder.
Target started pulling the products in June because of unsubstantiated claims about product safety. These included allegations that products posed health threats (for salmonella and listeria), and were mislabeled, containing undeclared ingredients.
These claims, reported by Bloomberg, were allegedly anonymous.
The Bloomberg article added: “Target said other allegations involve mislabeling: that some products are incorrectly labeled as non-Genetically Modified Organism (or non-GMO) food, and that Hampton Creek’s Just Sweet Mustard salad dressing contains honey, even though it is not listed as an ingredient on the label.”
But these claims were never substantiated.
According to a report in the LA Times (at the time of the removal): “No one got sick, and FDA isn’t inspecting.
“The Food and Drug Administration says it is monitoring the situation but has not received any reports of people falling ill from Hampton Creek products. Target and other retailers likewise reported no illnesses or complaints.”
Hampton Creek responded immediately with a statement saying: “The allegations that our products are mislabeled and unsafe are false.
“We have robust food safety standards, and as such, we remain confident about the safety of all products we sell and distribute.
“We look forward to working with Target and the FDA to bring this to a quick resolution.”
Now following Hampton Creek’s investigation into this situation, VegNews has reported that the company’s investigators have found evidence of fraudulent activity.
It said: “The investigative team has since found several fraudulent, unsigned letters sent to retailers – of which, only Target took action, removing the company’s products without an official recall issued by the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] the investigative team.”
An anonymous source reportedly told VegNews: “The return address on the envelope of one letter sent to retailer(s) and turned over to investigators fraudulently purported to be from [Hampton Creek’s] CEO Josh Tetrick.
“The letter itself was unsigned, addressed to retail partner executives, and cc’s Bloomberg.”
The FDA has now cleared Hampton Creek of all health scare claims, and the company is working to return its products to Target’s shelves.
A statement from Hampton Creek says: “More than a month ago, Target was led to believe that several of our products were mislabeled or unsafe.
“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. We’re thankful to the millions of consumers and growing number of partners who continue to support our mission to build a food system where everyone is eating well.”
But Target has not, as yet, deemed the matter resolved.
Target’s Senior Public Relations Manager Jenna Reck said: “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.”
There has been some speculation around the company’s decision to drop Hampton Creek, with Food Navigator USA reporting that Target’s decision to drop the products – which sell well – ‘raised a lot of questions’.
The outlet reports that an unnamed source told it that at least ‘one other major retailer’ received the anonymous letter sent to Target containing the allegations, but that after considering the evidence, chose not to act.
The FDA has not yet commented publicly on the situation.