Target has severed ties with the maker of the popular Just Mayo egg-free condiment two months after pulling the product and others over alleged food safety violations.
The move comes the same month the U.S. Food and Drug Administration closed, without further action, a review of the vegan food products made by Hampton Creek Inc., a San Francisco start-up. A Target spokeswoman said Monday that the retailer'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 email statement.
The Minneapolis-based retail giant carried about 20 products from Hampton Creek, which has been awash in controversy in recent months. In addition to the mayonnaise spread, Target carried Hampton Creek salad dressings, cookies and refrigerated cookie dough.
In a sharply worded statement, Josh Tetrick, co-founder and chief executive of Hampton Creek, said that the flap ensued from a "fraudulent letter" and that Target pulled its products 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 retailer's 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 because of 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 Wal-Mart, 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 email 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 that 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 not containing genetically modified organisms, or non-GMO.
Target's protocol included informing its in-house food safety experts and immediately notifying the FDA. Target tests only its own products. No consumers are known to have gotten sick from the products, according to Target.
Hampton Creek has been beset by problems as it has tried to raise money to grow its brand. Its board resigned in July, and the company was sued in a trademark dispute over a bottled-water company tied to actor Jaden Smith. Hampton Creek has also faced a government investigation — since closed — into allegations it was buying back its own products from stores to make sales appear stronger.
Crosby writes for the Minneapolis Star Tribune/McClatchy.