RIVERSIDE, Conn. -- Quorn Foods here, under fire from the Center for Science in the Public Interest for reported illness by consumers, is nevertheless seeing increased demand for its relatively new mycoprotein-based meatless cuisine, according to the general manager, David Wilson.
Wilson recently sent letters to the brokers that supply the frozen product to 400 U.S. retailers, reassuring them that the product is safe.
Spokesmen for both Shaw's Supermarkets and Whole Foods Market told SN they believe the product is safe and that it is selling well. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it is reviewing information provided to its Center for Food Safety and Nutrition by CSPI.
At a press conference last month, CSPI presented two Americans who said they got sick after eating the product, and CSPI asked the FDA for a recall.
Quorn's protein source is a processed fungus called mycoprotein. On the package, it is described as coming from "a small, unassuming member of the mushroom family, which we ferment like yogurt."
Ads placed by CSPI in London newspapers after Aug. 12 and a link on the CSPI Web site -- bannered "Ate Quorn? Got sick?" -- reeled in over 200 additional complaints of adverse reactions, including vomiting and diarrhea, according to Michael Jacobson, executive director of CSPI. Most of the additional complaints came from the United Kingdom.
Ironically, Quorn won a "Best Bite" recommendation from the consumer group in March when its newsletter rated meat substitutes. "The staff thought they tasted good and were nutritious. Only later did we learn about the adverse reactions," Jacobson told SN.
Quorn Foods products are not being recalled, the FDA recognizes the product as safe, and the company is in a continuing dialogue with the FDA, said Wilson's letter to the brokers. Quorn Foods is owned by U.K.-based Marlow Foods, a division of pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, London. Quorn has been commercially available in Britain and other European countries since 1984.
Kate Lowery, public relations director for Whole Foods Market, Austin, Texas, said that chain has received only four complaints about Quorn.
"You're going to get more complaints out of any conventional product. I know they did lots of research here a long time before they launched it," she said.
Quorn was introduced to the United States in January, after the mycoprotein was approved by the FDA as Generally Regarded As Safe. The food is used as a meat and poultry substitute, and in this country so far, it is a frozen product with seven items in the line, retailing for between $3.50 and $4.29.
Overseas, about half the line is refrigerated while the other half is frozen, and the line is much bigger: up to 90 products.
Quorn entered the United States in the natural-foods channel at first, and is now available nationwide in that channel. It is available in mainstream supermarkets on both coasts. Sales have been good, said Wilson -- about $2 million in the United States since January, or about 2.2 million portions.