Customers who believe they got swindled by iffy upscale pet food manufacturer Blue Buffalo, may be getting a little payback. A settlement was reached in the class action lawsuit fingering Blue Buffalo for questionable claims that their pet food did not have any chicken by-product meals, corn, wheat or soy, or artificial preservatives whatsoever. Blue Buffalo denied any wrongdoing, insisting that their labeling was perfectly fine. Despite their refusal to admit they might have stretched the truth just a smidgen, Blue Buffalo decided to settle to avoid the “cost and distraction of ongoing litigation.” In other words, the company decided it was better to cut their losses and agreed to a $32 million dollar settlement to reimburse consumers who fell for their dubious ads.
HOLD YOUR HORSES
But, consumers shouldn’t count their chickens just yet, because out of the entire, earth-shaking $32 million dollar settlement, all consumers are likely to get out of it is just a few lousy bucks. Yup, most folks will only get $5 – maybe $10 bucks – if they’re lucky.
FUZZY END OF THE LOLLIPOP
Petsumers, once again, get the fuzzy end of the lollipop when it comes to compensation for their pets from pet food companies. What the settlement amounts to is essentially chump change for consumers who felt they were conned into buying what they were told was a Michelin-star quality, gourmet pet food, but what they got instead was nothing more than just a plain ‘ol, run-of-the-mill pet food. It turned out, that the $49 bag of Blue Buffalo pet chow was, essentially, no different from most of the other, cheaper, middle-of-the-road pet foods after all.
NOT SO SPECIAL
Blue Buffalo’s phenomenal growth was due almost entirely to president Bill Bishop’s marketing savvy, skills he honed after spending years in the advertising business. That, along with an astounding advertising budget ($50 million was spent on advertising in 2013 alone) which was based on positioning their brand over other – more pedestrian – pet foods on the market. Their skillful marketing was based primarily on exploiting consumer’s dislike for by-products and other unsavory stuff in other pet food brands.
Their position was that their products were “different from many leading pet food brands in that Blue Buffalo products do not contain ingredients considered less desirable by pet parents.”
Which could have continued to work, except that Nestle Purina decided to look into Blue Buffalo’s claim of superiority over the more – how shall I put it – pedestrian brands, most of which are made by Nestle Purina.
BLUE BUFFALO’S BLUFF
Nestle Purina called Blue Buffalo’s bluff and had their pet foods tested. What they found was – you guessed it – poultry by-product (that included feathers, no less).
Then Blue Buffalo’s president, ever the master of flamboyant hyperbole, countered with a claim that they “exposed Nestlé Purina’s tests as utterly unreliable junk science.” Nevertheless, the mud stuck and Blue Buffalo got stuck footing a whopper of a settlement just to make the whole ugly mess go away.
What finally finished them off though, was their admission, in court, that a “substantial” and “material” portion of the pet food they sold to consumers contained poultry by-product meal, despite advertising claims to the contrary. In their defense, they claimed they were swindled by their supplier Wilbur-Ellis, who had indeed been sending them poultry by-products without their knowledge, and therefore were in fact, mislabeled.
WHOOP DE DO
“You could receive up to $200 from a class action settlement if you purchased Blue Buffalo pet foods or treats,” the notice on the Pet Food Settlement website reads:
Consumers who purchased certain Blue Buffalo products between May 7, 2008, and December 18, 2015, may receive a partial reimbursement as a result of a settlement. In order to receive a reimbursement, consumer class members must mail and submit a claim form online by April 14, 2016 and choose one of the following options:
OPTION 1: Eligible Class Members who DO NOT have valid proof of purchases will receive $5.00 for every $50.00 in products that they have purchased during the claim period, total payment not to exceed $10.
OPTION 2: Eligible Class Members who DO HAVE valid proof of purchases will receive $5.00 for every $50.00 in products they have purchased in the claim period (May 7, 2008, and December 18, 2015), total payment not to exceed $200.
LET’S DO SOME MATH
If a customer bought a $49 bag of Blue Buffalo’s pet food every month for seven years (of the full settlement period), they would have spent, roughly $4,200. So, assuming consumers managed to save every receipt during that time (that’s eighty four receipts to be exact), all they can be reimbursed for is $200.
If you don’t like either one of the (above) options, you have three choices: Do nothing, exclude yourself or object to the settlement:
a.) Do nothing: you will not receive money but you will be bound by the decisions of the Court regarding these claims, including certain releases of Blue Buffalo.
b.) Exclude yourself: you will maintain your right to sue Blue Buffalo about the legal claims in this case. To exclude yourself, you must do so in writing by April 14, 2016. If you exclude yourself you will not receive money from this settlement.
c.) Object: You may object to the settlement. To object, you must do so in writing by April 14, 2016.
LEGAL FEES, EXPENSES, ETC.
Why do I poo poo whopper settlements? Mainly, the reason I don’t get too excited when I see a number like $32 million in a settlement is, it’s usually the legal team that comes out smelling like a rose: They will get up to $8 million, in addition, $1.4 million goes for expenses and admin fees, which leaves class members with only $22.4 million. Which could sound like a lot, until you do some more math. Add up the estimated number of people in the class, their approximate claim amounts, and what comes out in the end, is a choice between is option no. 1 or option no. 2, which leaves consumers with only a few extra bucks in their pocket for their trouble.
FOR MORE DETAILS
For complete details, including a list of affected products, a claim form, and detailed court documents and other information, call +1.844.245.3772, visit www.petfoodsettlement.com, or write to Blue Buffalo Settlement, c/o Heffler Claims Group, P.O. Box 58730, Philadelphia, PA 19102-8730.
To read the documents related to the case, click on the links below:
- Stipulation of Settlement with exhibits
- Preliminary Approval Order
- Full Class Notice
- Claim Form
- Product List
- Summary Published Notice
SOURCE: Blue Buffalo Settlement Website