Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Target Begins Removing Hampton Creek's Products From Stores

  • Target received information alleging possible health concerns
  • The allegations included claims about mislabeled products

Target Corp. said it began removing all of Hampton Creek Inc.’s products from its stores, a potential blow for the food startup.

A spokeswoman for the retailer said, in a statement: “Pending a full review, Target today started a market withdrawal of Hampton Creek products, which are being removed from Target stores and Target.com.”

The Target spokeswoman said the company received allegations of food safety concerns as well as accusations of manipulation and adulteration of Hampton Creek’s products. She said one concern involved reports of pathogens found in a manufacturing facility used by Hampton Creek. Target also received allegations that Hampton Creek products had tested positive for salmonella and listeria. Target said it hasn’t confirmed these allegations.

Target is not aware of any consumers getting sick from Hampton Creek products. The company said it responded in an abundance of caution because of the specificity and seriousness of the accusations.

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.

Hampton Creek said its products comply with all Food and Drug Administration labeling regulations and its non-GMO claims are supported by ingredient supplier documentation.

“The allegations that our products are mislabeled and unsafe are false,” San Francisco-based Hampton Creek said in a statement. “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.”

Food Safety Regulators

The retailer said it has notified the FDA of the unconfirmed allegations and will work closely with the agency to provide any information it requires to conduct an investigation. The FDA said it will monitor the situation.

Target carries 20 different Hampton Creek products, among them Just Cookie Dough, Just Dressings, Just Cookies and Just Mayo. Target pulled all 20 products, the spokeswoman said. The retailer has 1,800 stores nationwide, but she didn’t specify how many of them carry Hampton Creek food.

Hampton Creek’s business with Target is worth $5.5 million per year, according to a person with knowledge of the company’s financials. Target is about a third of Hampton Creek’s retail business and its largest retail account, said the person, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak on the matter.

Allegations about potential health issues would be serious enough to cause Target to act, said Leon Nicholas, chief insights officer for Kantar Retail, a consulting company that advises food brands including Unilever. (In 2014 Unilever sued Hampton Creek in connection with false marketing, but dropped the suit later that year.) “It’s not an innocent-until-proven-guilty situation,” he said. “Simply the appearance of impropriety would be enough for Target to take action to protect its brand image.”

Target made the decision to pull Hampton Creek’s products through a voluntary market withdrawal, said the company’s spokeswoman. A voluntary market withdrawal is when a retailer removes a product on its own rather than being ordered to do so by a government agency like the FDA.

Blocked Purchases

Earlier Thursday, Target remotely disabled its cash registers from checking out Hampton Creek products, said the spokeswoman. This lock made it impossible for consumers to purchase items from Hampton Creek, she said. The company also sent an alert to its stores ordering employees to begin removing Hampton Creek products from shelves. Target says it notified stores within 18 hours of learning of the allegations.

Target incurred the cost of removing the products from its shelves, the spokeswoman said.

Last year, Hampton Creek voluntarily recalled its cake and muffin mixes from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. after an ingredient in the mixes tested positive for Salmonella. “Nothing else matters without safety,” Hampton Creek Chief Executive Officer Josh Tetrick said, according to a company press release posted on the FDA’s website at the time.

On Thursday afternoon, consumers were reacting online to the Target removal. “So bummed!” tweeted @KatrinaAnotado. “@Target wouldn’t sell me @hamptoncreek Just Mayo today.”

— With assistance by Matthew Boyle

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