If you’re a Canadian with internet access, you have probably already watched the video we’ve embedded above, that was made by a woman named Amanda House who ran a healthy, probiotic, protein infused frozen yogurt company called YoPro. The video is an emotional plea to the CEO of Loblaws, Galen Weston, who Amanda claims destroyed her healthy FroYo business, then developed their own no-name version of Amanda’s product, and directly worsened her husband’s serious medical problems in the process. Allegedly, Loblaws told her that they would stock YoPro in a whole bunch of Loblaws stores. Then, according to Amanda, that plan was reneged on at the last minute, causing the YoPro company to lose a whole bunch of money. Loblaws is saying that YoPro was not a hit. They’re saying it couldn’t “compete or succeed in the frozen desert market,” and that’s why their company failed. Galen Weston has even agreed to take a personal meeting with Amanda. All that said, Amanda’s video has gone viral to the max, an anti-Loblaws social media lynch mob has formed, and the whole scandal has become known around our office as FrozenYogurtGate2012.
A concerned tweeter questioning Loblaws about their idea-stealing fetish.
To try and make sense of this frozen treat catastrophe, I gave Amanda House a call this morning. After watching her video a few times, there were still some confusing components to the whole story. She claims that YoPro was left out of Loblaws' official planogram, which is an internal document from head office that dictates what product goes where on what shelf, in every store. If a product is not on the planogram, it doesn’t end up on the shelf. However, obviously, the product made its way into stores anyway since Loblaws is saying the frozen desserts weren’t selling. Amanda clarified: “After they left us out of the planogram, we had to approach stores individually to see if they would be willing to carry YoPro. The stores are sent these planograms, so they have their freezer space taken up by those products that are in the planogram. Many of the stores voiced their concern that they didn’t have space for YoPro. It’s very very precious space. So we were fortunate enough that some of the stores were willing to bring YoPro in, but often it wasn’t shelved in the frozen yogurt or ice cream section. It might have been just where they could find space. It could have been anywhere with the frozen muffins to the bulk vegetables so it was kind of all over the place.”
Amanda House holding up a box of YoPro in her viral video.
So clearly Amanda and her husband were adept at hustling the product into stores, despite being left out of official Loblaws plans. Evidently, though, these stores that Amanda got YoPro into was not enough to sustain the business. The stores that Amanda got YoPro into amounted to “25%” of the stores that she had anticipated would be stocking her probiotic frozen yogurt treats. The story gets more complicated when it comes to Loblaws own version of this probiotic frozen yogurt. When I asked Amanda if she really believes that Loblaws buried her business then reverse engineered her frozen protein delicacy, she said: “When we first developed YoPro, we found that there was nothing out there like it. YoPro was the first protein fortified frozen yogurt with probiotics. It’s all natural as well. Now, working with protein can be extremely difficult because it can burn out pumps and mixers at the manufacturers, which is why it took us so long in research and development. So to see now that they have a very similar product that has been protein fortified and has very similar nutritional content and very similar ingredients and even similar layout of packaging, was obviously heart wrenching.”
Loblaws' social media rep responding directly to angry frozen yogurt lovers from their BlackBerry.
If you put yourself in Amanda’s frozen yogurt loving shoes, it is not hard to imagine how a major corporation ripping off your small business idea would be a huge bummer. That said, it appears that a massive reason that Amanda’s video has gone viral is because of the story of her husband, who has a degenerating disease that caused him to lose his vision. Despite all that, this extremely courageous, badass dude has biked across the country. However, in Amanda’s video, she seems to blame Loblaws for her husband’s disease. When I asked her about this seemingly illogical jump from business failure to blindness, she stood her ground and blamed her ongoing legal fight with Loblaws that has apparently been going on since 2008: “I think it’s logical to realize that this company has been dragging a legal battle out for five years. There are so many times where, in my eyes at least, there easily could have been a solution. It’s just a heavy burden to take. Obviously you have sleepless nights and you go through anxiety and you go to a very dark place and you don’t know when all of it is going to end.” Evidently, this burden is how she blames Loblaws for her husband’s illness.
To further convolute this deliciously creamy yogurt battle, a woman named Allison Choppick from Stratford Ontario has emerged reluctantly to point out that she designed a logo for YoPro, was told by YoPro that the logo was unsatisfactory, and then YoPro went and used the logo on their packaging anyway without paying. Amanda House claims that she has no idea who Allison is: “It is very strange and I’ve responded to her and I hope she will at least send me an email.” Allison claims she has sent Amanda several emails, and I have personally witnessed Amanda deleting numerous comments left by Allison on Amanda’s Facebook group and Youtube video.
Allison is not out to cash in, nor did she seem comfortable with being involved in this situation: “I don't want money out of this and I don't want to harm their cause either. Clearly Loblaws missed something in their chain of command, but YoPro was still in some of their stores. They're saying that Loblaws is trying to screw over their business, but YoPro they did the same thing to me. I realized they had used my logo when I saw YoPro in the frozen yogurt aisle of a Loblaws store in 2009. When I saw my logo, I was irate.”
A screenshot of the YoPro logo on Allison's personal website.
Allison claims she has the original sketches and contracts with YoPro, and on her personal design portfolio website, the YoPro logo is included in the logos section. The logo on Allison’s site is identical to the one on the YoPro website. While Allison has so far been unable to provide the documentation from her agreement with YoPro, she demonstrated an intimate understanding of the logo’s design to me over the phone as she described the playfulness of the logo as a means to attract young consumers into buying the frozen yogurt: “I added the off-set O to put a little bit of playfullness of the logo. Then there’s that bit of gradient in the blues to show ice and frozenness. Plus, it's on a tilt for a reason, it's to look playful. That may not mean anything to a passerby, but when it comes to the subconscious buying of a product this all comes into consideration.”
A screenshot of the YoPro logo on the YoPro website. Same, no?
As for Amanda's YouTube video, Allison is not impressed: "I think they're abusing viral marketing and playing with peoples' emotions. As for her husband, no one was forcing him to keep working, it was their goal to push forward into doing this. I feel like they thought, 'let's do whatever we possibly can, because viral marketing works.' This whole thing annoys me."
It seems that there’s as much evidence that YoPro got screwed over by Loblaws as there is that Allison Choppick got screwed over by YoPro. While it’s never pleasant to hear about such a crippling business loss, especially to a small family enterprise, it appears as if the bulk of the social media thrust against Loblaws is being pushed by Amanda’s heartfelt appeal for emotions and the upsetting condition of her husband, not facts. We’ll see how it all ends up when Amanda meets with Galen Weston, but at the moment the specifics of the story are confusing and one-sided.
Follow Patrick on Twitter: @patrickmcguire