12/12/2012 06:45 EST | Updated 02/11/2013 05:12 EST

Frozen-yogurt maker issues YouTube plea in Loblaw dispute

A Toronto-area entrepreneur has launched a social media campaign in which she claims that grocery retail giant Loblaw made “detrimental errors” in distributing her frozen yogurt, leading her to financial ruin.

Amanda House posted a four-minute video that addressed Galen Weston Jr., the executive chairman of Loblaw Companies Ltd., on Monday pleading with him to “do the right thing.”

House and her fiancé, Chris Delaney, have been entangled in a legal dispute with the food retailer since 2010. They claim that their company, Yopro Treats, fell on hard times after Loblaw mishandled the distribution of a line of “pro-biotic, protein fortified” frozen yogurt the couple had developed together.

House claims she and Delaney have been left in dire straits with no legal resolution in sight.

“Your company and your lawyers have put numerous delays, unnecessary and costly, in front of us. And now you’ve duplicated Yopro under your own PC label,” House alleges in the video.

“I’m not sure you quite understand the effect that these actions have on other businesses, or on the people that run those businesses, Mr. Weston. We’ve been getting the runaround from your company for nearly five years. We’ve lost everything.”

In an interview with CBC News, House said the dispute originally centred on whether Loblaw fulfilled written agreements to stock Yopro in 2008 and 2009. But in August the lawsuit was amended to include a PC-brand of frozen yogurt purportedly similar to Yopro, which began appearing on store shelves last spring.

House’s emotional YouTube plea gained traction on social media sites and had been viewed more than 15,000 times by Wednesday evening.

Loblaw chief responds

It also prompted a response from Weston, who said through a spokesperson on Wednesday that he had “reviewed” House’s YouTube plea.

“The events she describes are deeply disturbing and do not in any way meet the high ethical standards aspired to by Loblaw Companies and outlined in its code of conduct,” the statement said.

“Putting the legal protocols of this situation on hold, I have requested a personal meeting with Amanda to better understand the situation and we will do our best to resolve it right away.”

Julija Hunter, the company’s vice-president of public relations, also said in an email that hundreds of Loblaw stores carried the Yopro frozen yogurt for more than a year “and unfortunately it did not perform well.”

She said Loblaw had previously scheduled mediation meetings in the hopes of settling the claim.

Karen Hope, a food-marketing specialist in Calgary, said dealing with a major grocer for the first time can be far from a sure thing for small independent producers looking to strike it big.

“Every small food processor is in a position that when they start to sell to large grocers, that there’s never a continuing commitment. So whatever investment they’ve made, it’s based on the hope that their product will have continued sales growth within that chain,” Hope said by phone.

On the other hand, if a product sells “really well,” she said large grocers sometimes delist it and move to produce a similar version themselves which they can sell more cheaply.

“This makes the mass grocery business a much riskier prospect for small producers,” Hope said.