- Last week, Target started pulling products made by Hampton Creek off of its shelves, according to Bloomberg. A spokesperson for the retailer said the move comes after it received allegations of food safety concerns and accusations of manipulation and adulteration of Hampton Creek’s products. No consumers have reported illness as a result of consuming the products, the article said.
- The article says Target received reports of pathogens found in a Hampton Creek manufacturing facility and allegations that items in the Just line of vegan condiments, salad dressings, cookies, baking mixes and cookie dough had tested positive for salmonella and listeria. The retailer also claims some products are mislabeled as non-GMO and its Sweet Mustard product contains honey that is not listed on the ingredient label. According to Bloomberg, Target did not confirm these allegations before pulling products, but notified the Food and Drug Association of its concerns.
- Target, which is the largest retailer that sells Hampton Creek products, is the only store to have pulled any items from its shelves. Hampton Creek denies any allegations of impropriety in a company statement. "The allegations that our products are mislabeled and unsafe are false," the statement reads. "The Sweet Mustard product complies with all FDA labeling requirements. Our Non-GMO product claims are supported by ingredient supplier documentation. We are confident that our Non-GMO products are properly labeled. 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."
Considering the 1,800 Target stores nationwide carry as many as 20 Hampton Creek products each, this is no small or easy recall. Sources told Bloomberg that Hampton Creek's business with Target is worth about $5.5 million annually, so it also isn't a cheap decision for the retailer to have made.
Target is conducting the recall properly, but the root cause remains a big question. Products usually test positive for harmful bacteria before being pulled off shelves. Most of the time, mislabeling-related recalls happen when products contain ingredients that aren't usually used — like milk, nuts or flour coming into contact with a free-from item. Not to mention most recalls aren't isolated to a single store, or involve all diverse products from a single manufacturer. And manufacturers of recalled products don't usually issue such firm denials.
Hampton Creek has attracted widespread scrutiny for its business and manufacturing in the past, but food safety issues have not previously plagued the company. Last year, Hampton Creek issued a voluntary recall of cake mixes containing Native Forest coconut milk powder because the ingredient was found to contain salmonella in internal tests.
Considering that Target has been working hard to revamp its foundering grocery business, Hampton Creek may simply be a casualty of the retailer trying to change its image. The nationwide retailer has been trying to become a bigger player in the segment, and unveiled plans earlier this year for a "reimagined" 124,000-square foot store. It has more of a focus on what grocery customers want: an enhanced produce department, more grab-and-go and prepared meals, self-checkouts, a wine and beer shop and circular aisles in the center of the store. The first stores under this model are scheduled to open in Houston this summer, with 500 more planned by the end of 2019.
By placing a premium on food safety, Target also may be working this angle to differentiate itself from other retailers. However, the Hampton Creek part of this plan may backfire. Considering the vegan spreads and snacks company has a loyal customer base that has already turned to social media to protest the recall, consumers may find another place to shop.
Hampton Creek has faced — and beat — a lot of adversity in its five years of doing business. Considering its track record thus far, it is likely to survive this scandal — potentially to Target's detriment.