Latte Imbroglio Continues: Manufacturer Cooperates with FDA, Recalls Cans

A company that played a key role in the manufacture of self-heating coffee drinks licensed by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck has voluntarily recalled those products in cooperation with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Lakeside Foods Inc., the company charged with filling and sealing the self heating Wolfgang Puck Latte line, as well as three other self-heating beverage and food brands, issued the recall on June 8, withdrawing the products from circulation in 31 states and requesting that consumers return any product they had recently purchased in exchange for a full refund.

The company conducted the recall because some of its cans may have been contaminated with “spoilage organisms or harmful bacteria due to seal leakage,” according to a statement released by Lakeside.

The recall was the result of leaky cans, rather than issues with the heating function, according to an FDA spokesman.

The recall was another in a series of setbacks for the self-heating product concept, released to great fanfare last spring because of its association with Puck. It came on the heels of an investigative report by Beverage Spectrum/BevNET detailing problems consumers have had with the self-heating cans. According to that report, BrandSource, the company licensed by Wolfgang Puck to market the lattes on the celebrity chef’s behalf, requested that retailers remove the products from their shelves because consumers had complained of the presence of heating materials in the coffee itself, spoilage, and melting.

Lakeside is a subcontractor of OnTech, the company that claims to have spent $24 million to develop and market the self-heating technology. Sonoco, a packaging manufacturer, produced the cans according to OnTech’s specifications, and then Lakeside filled and sealed them.

BrandSource, whose president, Robert Groux, had contracted with OnTech to manufacture the cans on behalf of his partnership with Wolfgang Puck, has been involved in litigation with OnTech, Lakeside and Sonoco since earlier this spring. OnTech and its subcontractors claim BrandSource failed to pay for product, while BrandSource alleged that the product manufactured by the OnTech group was defective.

Having a recall emanate from the manufacturing group “absolutely supports our side of the lawsuit,” said Mark Miles, the attorney for BrandSource. “OnTech continues to argue there are no problems with this product. For them to continue to keep their heads in the sand is potentially harmful to the American consumer.”

Jonathan Weisz, the president of OnTech, refused to comment for this story. Last month, he issued a statement through a public relations firm that reports of a recall were “incorrect and irresponsible” and that OnTech and its manufacturing partners had not been aware of any manufacturing problems.

Ironically, OnTech’s own brand of self-heating coffees, Hillside, was also on the list of recalled products, along with soups made on behalf of Las Vegas-based prepared foods purveyor Chef Jay, as well as one other company, Beaumont Gold.

A “self-heating hotline” set up at Lakeside referred media calls to a spokesman at Fleishman-Hillard, a public relations firm.

“The primary idea was to focus on customer satisfaction and pull it back,” said John Spellich, a representative of Lakeside. “It would be premature to assess how the sealing issue happened.”

Puck spokesman Robbie Vorhaus said the chef’s company was continuing an investigation into problems with the products; he said it was rapidly approaching a swift conclusion.

“We’re still trying to figure this all out,” Vorhaus said. “There’s a lot of finger pointing, and we’re trying to understand what really is the issue here. Everyone seems to feel it’s someone else’s responsibility. We feel it’s the licensee’s responsibility to deal with this.”