Nestlé Sues Blue Buffalo Over Alleged False Advertising and Product Formula Claims

Legal skirmish over marketing and product ingredients pits two of the top pet food product makers in the world.

By | Posted: May 7, 2014, 11 a.m. PST

Charging that Nestlé Purina PetCare Co. relied on "voodoo science,” Blue Buffalo Co. fought back Tuesday against claims that it engages in false advertising and uses poultry byproduct meal and other undisclosed ingredients in some of its pet food recipes.

Purina and Blue Buffalo Dog Food

Nestlé Purina, one of the world’s largest pet food companies, sues Wilton, Conn.-based Blue Buffalo in U.S. District Court on May 6, 2014, accusing the competitor of belittling Nestlé Purina’s name and products.

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"This is not an action we take lightly,” says Steve Crimmins, Nestlé Purina’s vice president and chief marketing officer. "We believe consumers deserve honesty when it comes to the ingredients in the food they choose to feed their pets.”

Blue Buffalo, which has grown to be one of the Top 10 pet food product companies and pitches its dog and cat foods as all natural, slammed St. Louis-based Nestlé Purina and the accusations.

"We categorically deny all of these false allegations and will aggressively defend the integrity of our brand and our products,” founder and chairman Bill Bishop says.

"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,” Bishop adds. "It is quite another thing to prove these allegations.”

At the center of the legal fistfight is Blue Buffalo’s advertising and packaging claims that its products are free of poultry byproduct meal, a common pet food ingredient made from ground-up parts of chickens or other fowl after the muscle meat has been removed.

Nestlé Purina reported that independent laboratory tests found "significant percentages” of poultry byproduct meal in several Blue Buffalo Life Protection recipes and discovered both poultry byproduct meal and corn in LifeSource Bits, a mixed-in blend of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

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Levels of poultry byproduct meal ranged from 25 percent in one sample of Indoor Health Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe for cats to 22 percent in a sample of Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe for adult dogs, according to the Nestlé Purina lawsuit.

"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,’” Nestlé Purina reports in a separate statement.

Nestlé Purina discloses  that some of its pet food recipes contain chicken meal or grain. The label on DH Dental Health Canine Formula, part of the company’s Veterinary Diets line, lists chicken, chicken meal, brewers rice, ground yellow corn and ground wheat as the first five ingredients.

Bishop defended his company’s dog and cat foods and repeated advertising claims that Blue Buffalo does not use chicken byproduct meal, poultry byproducts meal or ground corn in any 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 Nestlé Purina relied on to support their outrageous allegations,” Bishop notes.

Nestlé Purina took offense at marketing claims that Blue Buffalo products are superior to competitor brands and at "statements that its products are human grade and fit for human consumption.”

"Blue Buffalo has become a pet food brand that consumers have come to associate—falsely—with very high, ‘ultra-premium healthy’ pet food,” the lawsuit states. "To make matters worse, Blue Buffalo charges very high ‘ultra-premium’ prices based on the same false attributes.”

The lawsuit demands that Blue Buffalo pay triple damages, correct its advertising and turn over all profits arising from products tied to false advertising claims.

Bishop welcomed the legal challenge and says, "When we’re right, we fight.”

"Clearly, some of our major competitors, who have built their business using lower-cost ingredients, are upset,” Bishop states. "We will always stand behind our promise and our products.”

Bishop also was alluding to Hill’s Pet Nutrition Inc. of Topeka, Kan., which in March won a partial victory against Blue Buffalo in a case decided by the National Advertising Division, which polices the U.S. advertising industry.

The National Advertising Division recommended changes to some Blue Buffalo advertising claims and to the company’s online True Blue Test, which compares pet food brands.

Read a copy of Purina's complaints and details of the lawsuit at PetFoodHonesty.com

Read Blue Buffalo's response at BlueBuffalo.com

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