TORONTO – The owners of an Ontario frozen yogurt company embroiled in a $20-million lawsuit with Loblaw Companies Ltd., met with the head of the grocery giant Friday, just days after an impassioned video about their business dealings went viral.
Amanda House says although no settlement offers came out of the hour-long meeting with Loblaw executive chairman Galen Weston Jr., she was hopeful that communication lines are now open between her company YoPRO Treats Inc. and the supermarket chain.
“It was a step in the right direction,” said 35-year-old House, who attended the meeting at Loblaw (TSX:L) headquarters in Brampton, Ont. with her company co-founder and fiance Chris Delaney and their lawyer.
“It was just basically open communication and explaining to Galen what had happened. It was good to be able to express our side of it.”
The meeting was arranged after Loblaw became aware of a video the Burlington, Ont., kinesiologist and personal trainer uploaded earlier this week to YouTube. In the nearly four-minute video, House makes an impassioned plea to Weston for help.
She alleges that Loblaw, on two occasions, promised to sell the couple’s low-fat, high-protein frozen yogurt product at their stores in Ontario and Quebec but then unexpectedly reneged on their offers.
House says their products were not placed in freezers at hundreds of stores as promised, but a small order was made for a handful of stores with little marketing and signage.
The couple says at the end of Friday’s meeting, Weston said he would try to get back to them next week.
“He listened, and he’s going to investigate it further,” said House. “That’s all he can do at this time.”
In March 2010, the couple launched a lawsuit against Loblaw for $20 million, alleging that the grocer breached its contract when it launched its own similar product. House claims they and their families have lost $1-million in their dealings with Loblaw and have been left in financial ruin.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
In a statement Friday, the company acknowledged that “mistakes were made” and that it retracted its original offer to the small business owners.
“However in the overall context, these were outweighed by the significant effort made by colleagues to support the sale of YoPro in hundreds of the (Loblaw)’s stores in Ontario and Quebec for more than a year,” said the company.
“Unfortunately for both parties, the product simply didn’t sell well.”
It also refuted claims that their PC brand Greek yogurt bar products are similar to YoPro.
Loblaw says it has been using the manufacturing process to make the bars since the 1990s and that the recipe was inspired by a House and Home magazine article from 2010.
“Loblaw Companies remains committed to operating at the highest ethical standards and believes it has acted appropriately in this circumstance,” said the company.
“Having said all of that we remain hopeful that this matter can be resolved without going to court.”
House says the legal saga has also impacted her fiance’s health.
In the video, she says she was on her way to a scheduled legal meeting when Delaney, who is blind, collapsed and had to be taken to the hospital.
She never would’ve thought that the video would’ve gained so much publicity. After all, it was the first time she had ever posted anything on YouTube.
“It was a very big decision (to do the video),” she said. “I couldn’t have imagined it would’ve ended up like that, with people sharing it as much as they have. I couldn’t have imagined that it would’ve gotten that big.”