Legal Fight Escalates Between Purina, Blue Buffalo

In what Blue Buffalo labels a “smear campaign,” Nestlé Purina renews an attack on its competitor’s products.

Blue Buffalo dog and cat foods and cat litter are at the center of lawsuits pitting Nestlé Purina Petcare Co. and Blue Buffalo Co.

Pet food giant Nestlé Purina filed additional legal claims last week against Blue Buffalo Co., accusing the competitor of overstating the quality of its LifeSource Bits, cat litter and Jolly Joints dog treats.

Blue Buffalo called the allegations a “smear campaign” and challenged the qualifications of an independent scientific expert who examined other Blue Buffalo products.

The legal brawl stems from a false-advertising lawsuit filed May 6 by Nestlé Purina Petcare Co., which asserted that a preliminary laboratory report had uncovered poultry byproduct meal and grain in some Blue Buffalo recipes.

Blue Buffalo, which filed a countersuit May 14, declares in its advertising and legal responses that the company’s dog and cat foods are free of chicken and poultry byproduct meals, corn, wheat and soy.

The Wilton, Conn., company defended its LifeSource Bits, cat litter and dog treats.

“Nestlé Purina is attempting to muddy the waters … by adding a list of new unfounded allegations to continue its malicious attack,” said Blue Buffalo founder and chairman Bill Bishop. “With numerous quotes in its press release from its chief marketing officer, Nestlé Purina makes it clear that this entire lawsuit is simply a marketing campaign disguised as a legal case.”

Steven Crimmins, the chief marketing officer with St. Louis-based Nestlé Purina, accused Blue Buffalo of using “smoke and mirrors.”

“Sadly, the closer you look at Blue Buffalo’s advertising claims, the more you realize that it’s not about an honest relationship with pet owners,” Crimmins stated.

Purina’s amended complaint, filed in federal court in St. Louis, says:

  • LifeSource Bits, a mixed-in blend of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, “actually have lower levels of some key nutrients than the standard kibble found in Blue Buffalo pet food.”
  • Blue Buffalo wrongly claims that Naturally Fresh cat litters have three times the absorption power of the leading clay-based litter and 1.5 to 8.5 times more odor control than leading clumping litter. (Purina makes Tidy Cats and Yesterday’s News litters.)
  • Jolly Joints dog treats “contain inadequate levels of glucosamine to provide the joint and hip health benefits they claim.”

“A medium-sized dog would have to eat hundreds of Jolly Joints treats a day to get the health benefits Blue Buffalo promises,” Purina stated.

Purina reported that LifeSource Bits were tested by the independent laboratory Eurofins and the litter internally at Nestlé Purina. The basis for the Jolly Joints complaint was the “published, guaranteed levels listed by Blue Buffalo,” a spokesman said. 

Earlier testing of Blue Buffalo cat and dog food was conducted by James V. Makowski, a professor of biology at Messiah College and the owner of Windsor Laboratories in Mechanicsburg, Pa.

Blue Buffalo’s chairman questioned Makowski’s credentials and said Purina was slow to identify him.

“It has now become abundantly clear why Nestlé Purina fought so hard to keep it secret: Nestlé Purina apparently has no confidence in its science or its expert, and understandably so,” Bishop said. “It turns out that the ‘highly sophisticated, independent lab’ it promoted as the foundation for its smear campaign is in reality an individual of dubious scientific credentials who works out of a lab in his home.

“His analysis was performed with a rudimentary microscope under less-than-optimal conditions with questionable methods and recordkeeping,” Bishop added.

Purina defended Makowski.

“Windsor Laboratories is a well-recognized laboratory specializing in microscopic analysis for the agricultural and other related industries, including the pet food industry,” the manufacturer reported.

Makowski revealed in court documents that he billed Purina for $30,278 as of June 30 at a rate of $250 an hour.

Blue Buffalo and Purina each explain their cases in detail on websites: BlueBuffalo.com/PurinasJunkScience and PetFoodHonesty.com.

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