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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.
Blue Buffalo asserts that its pet foods do not use poultry byproduct meal. Nestlé Purina's Veterinary Diets Joint Mobility dog food contains salmon meal and poultry byproduct meal.
Nestlé Purina, one of the world's largest pet food companies, sued Wilton, Conn.-based Blue Buffalo in U.S. District Court, accusing the competitor of belittling Nestlé Purina's name and products.
"This is not an action we take lightly," said Steve Crimmins, Nestlé Purina's 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 into a Top 10 pet food company 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 said.
"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 added. "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.
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 reported 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.
"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 noted.
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 stated. "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 said, "When we're right, we fight."
"Clearly, some of our major competitors, who have built their business using lower-cost ingredients, are upset," Bishop stated. "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.