Target has severed ties with the makers of the popular Just Mayo egg-free condiment two months after pulling the product and others over alleged food safety violations.
The move comes after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier this month closed without further action a review of the plant-based products made by Hampton Creek, a San Francisco-based start-up that sells only vegan foods. A Target spokeswoman said Monday the company’s decision came after a review of its own.
“We are not planning to bring Hampton Creek products back to Target and have openly communicated our decision with the Hampton Creek team,” spokeswoman Jenna Reck said in an e-mail statement.
The Minneapolis-based retailer carried about 20 products from Hampton Creek, which has been awash in controversy in recent months. In addition to the mayonnaise spread, Target also carried salad dressings, cookies and refrigerated cookie dough.
In a sharply-worded statement, Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of Hampton Creek, said the flap ensued from a “fraudulent letter” and that Target pulled its products on June 22 with little warning.
Tetrick said that Target ended their relationship because Hampton Creek went public after the FDA closed its case, violating a vendor communications agreement. Target’s Reck declined to discuss specifics of the retailers’ decision to “reconsider our relationship with Hampton Creek.”
It is unusual for a retailer to initiate action against one of its vendors. More often, products are pulled from the shelves by manufacturers themselves due to a recall or other safety concern.
The reaction on social media has been strong among Hampton Creek’s loyal followers. The products are still carried in some 20,000 retail outlets, including Walmart, Whole Foods and Amazon as well as elementary schools, universities and sports stadiums, according to the company.
Hampton Creek spokesman Andrew Noyes said in an e-mail that another retailer received an anonymous letter and that Hampton Creek is now “weighing legal options against the sender [or senders] of the fraudulent letters.”
Target cleared its shelves after receiving what it called “specific and serious food safety allegations.” The retailer declined to provide details, but Bloomberg reported it included accusations of manipulation and adulteration of Hampton Creek’s products as well as reports of pathogens found in one of its manufacturing facilities. Other allegations involved mislabeling products as non-genetically modified organism (or non-GMO) food.
Target’s protocol included informing its in-house food safety experts and immediately notifying the FDA. Target only tests its own products. No consumers are known to have gotten sick from the products, according to Target.
Hampton Creek has been beset problems as it has tried to raise money to grow its brand. The company’s board resigned earlier this summer and it was sued in a trademark dispute over a bottled-water company tied to actor Jaden Smith. The company also faced a government investigation — since closed — into allegations it was buying back its own products from stores to make sales appear stronger.