- A new report from Bloomberg says both Blue Apron and Tyson Food's Open Prairie Natural Pork (which until recently supplied the meal kit service with antibiotic-free meat) have included pork raised, for at least some amount of time, in "gestation crates," which are cages that are so cramped that a pregnant animal has no room to move. The crates are deemed cruel by many activists.
- While Bloomberg reports that Blue Apron says it now gets its pork loins from duBreton's Certified Humane program, which doesn't use any crates, the company's ground pork is supplied by Maple Leaf Foods, which uses "group sow housing." Blue Apron admits that that type of animal agriculture could use maternity crates, which differ from gestation cages in the amount of time the adult animal spends in it. Supplier Maple Leaf, however, noted on its website that it will convert all 65,000 sows to open housing by the end of 2021.
- For its part, Blue Apron pledges in June that all of its pork will be Certified Humane or Global Animal Partnership Step 1-certified by the end of 2019. The certifications block the use of any animal crates. Tyson, meanwhile, told Food Dive in a statement its Open Prairie Natural Pork line is not labeled gestation-stall free but that "most of it is currently produced without gestation stalls and 100 percent of it will be by the end of the year."
The latest news is another hit to the struggling meal kit service provider. Last month, Blue Apron reported a sharp decline in net sales, along with a 24% drop in customers using the service. At that time, the company announced plans to test on-demand delivery system in hopes of attracting customers turned off by a subscription model, but now must loop back to address the issue that its pork may be raised in a way that some deem inhumane.
The publicity highlights a growing issue for companies who are struggling to keep up with consumer demand for transparency. Younger consumers have noted in numerous surveys that they are willing to pay premium prices for organic, natural and cruelty-free foods, and will drop a service for another if something turns them off. Both Perdue and Tyson have been caught in the crosshairs, outed for cruelty to animals and have had to try to pivot to maintain market share. Blue Apron, in particular, will likely take a lot of flak since it markets itself as socially conscious but failed to fully deliver.
Even as the company pledges to do better — which could alleviate some of the fallout — Blue Apron must also be careful to not parse words too closely to a skeptical and well-informed audience. As the Bloomberg article notes, those in the meat industry throw around terms such as "gestation cage" and "maternity cage," which likely will confuse consumers. The difference between the two is only in the amount of time the sow lives in the crates, something the average shopper does not know. Rebuilding trust will be key in seeing whether this news will have much impact on the meal kit provider's bottom line.
And it doesn't look like consumers can rely on the federal government to help clear things up. The U.S. Agriculture Department in spring officially withdrew the organic livestock and poultry practices (OLPP) rule that would have set animal welfare standards for organic agriculture. "The organic industry's continued growth domestically and globally shows that consumers trust the current approach that balances consumer expectations and the needs of organic producers and handlers," Greg Ibach, USDA's marketing and regulatory program undersecretary, said in a release.
Correction: In a previous version of the story, the headline was inaccurate. Blue Apron pledged in June to have its pork supply be crate-free by the end of 2019.