- About two months after Target pulled Hampton Creek's vegan condiments and snacks off of its shelves, the retailer has decided to completely end its relationship with the company, according to Bloomberg. This decision came despite the Food and Drug Administration finding and telling Food Dive it had "no significant safety concerns" about the company's products right now.
- Target officials told Bloomberg they decided to pull the products from the shelves because of “specific and serious food safety allegations about Hampton Creek products.” A Target spokeswoman told Bloomberg, "There were multiple reasons we terminated our relationship with Hampton Creek and all of the reasons were clearly communicated to Hampton Creek." Target did not respond to Food Dive's request for comment.
- According to a statement on Hampton Creek's website from CEO Josh Tetrick, Target told Hampton Creek the company's decision to tell the public that the FDA had found its products safe "somehow violated Target's vendor communication guidelines." Tetrick wrote, "Target told us this is what drove their decision to end our relationship, in spite of their pledge to bring back the products once the FDA confirmed their safety."
The relationship between Target and Hampton Creek has been mysteriously fraught since the products were pulled off of shelves nationwide in June. While the retailer's concerns may be plain and easily understood by those working at Target, people who aren't employees — including many fans of Hampton Creek's Just branded mayonnaise, salad dressing and cookies — are still in the dark. Much of the time, food safety-related recalls happen after someone reports an illness from consuming a product, but that wasn't the case here. There have been no recent illnesses or other recalls of Hampton Creek products, which span food categories and use different ingredients.
There are 1,800 Target stores nationwide, and before this summer's recall, some of them carried as many as 20 Hampton Creek products. Sources told Bloomberg that Hampton Creek's business with Target is worth about $5.5 million annually — though Hampton Creek disputed these numbers to Bloomberg, saying the retailer brought in less than 10% of its total annual revenue — so removing the products is likely costly.
Beyond the unclear food safety connection, the reasons why the products are permanently gone from Target's shelves also are unknown to consumers. If a protocol violation is — as Tetrick claims —the true reason why Just products are no longer on the store's shelves, this may be a sort of punitive blow against the company. But consumers are not a part of this fight, and if they are suddenly unable to find their favorite products at Target, they may easily decide to do their shopping elsewhere.
Target is searching for greater success in grocery, which is a secret to no one. In the last week, the retailer announced two high-profile hires — Liz Nordlie from General Mills and Mark Kenny from Walmart. They're a part of Target's quest to shake up its grocery division, which currently only drives about 22% of the store's business. It's unclear if removing Hampton Creek products is a part of the big-box retailer's new grocery strategy. While a more curated grocery product line may be a strategy to help boost sales, a publicized process involving safety accusations like this one is not the best way to go about getting it. Time will tell if Target's decision will ultimately hurt the retailer, or if it will help get the store's grocery strategy get back on target.