The founder of a company that made what was meant to be dairy-free yogurt used in Pret a Manger “vegan” packaging said weeping that she had no idea there was a “secret ingredient” that contained traces of milk protein.
Bethany Eaton, managing director of Planet Coconut, said she accepted the bags the ingredient arrived in on the condition that it was made in a factory that also handles milk, but she believes it could have been made in a separate allergen-free area.
Celia Marsh, 42, a dental nurse and mother of five from Milksham, Wiltshire, severely allergic to cow’s milk, collapsed on a Bath street and died two hours later after eating a “rainbow flatbread” of milk protein.
Eaton told the court that she and her husband Paul, both former police officers, founded Planet Coconut in 2011 after discovering a gap in the market for dairy-free, soy-free products.
They contacted an Australian company called CoYo, founded by Henry Gosling, which makes coconut milk yogurt, and bought a license to manufacture and supply it in the UK under the trade name “COYO”.
Eaton said that when they signed the licensing agreement, Gosling told Planet Coconut about its “secret ingredient” — a stabilizer called HG1 designed with Australian food giant Tate & Lyle. “He was very protective of his recipe,” she said.
Planet Coconut started making COYO yogurt using HG1 manufactured by Tate & Lyle UK factory in North Wales and since 2012 has supplied customers including Pret, Waitrose and independent health food stores.
Eaton accepted the bags from Tate & Lyle HG1 came out saying: “Manufactured in a factory that handles milk, eggs and grains.” But she said, “Henry told me that Tate & Lyle make it in allergy-free territory. I took his word for it and believed it.”
“I wouldn’t dream it had dairy in it. I didn’t have any concerns. I thought there was a facility, area, or separate line that was completely allergen-free.”
asked Marsh family attorney, Jeremy Hyam K. C, Eaton Why not be alarmed by the warning on HG1 bags. She said, “Dairy-free is the reason I’m out. I’m super excited about it. We think our product doesn’t contain milk.”
Hiam noted that by 2017, Planet Coconut was making more than £3 million annually. Eaton’s voice cracked when she said, “I spent a lot of money buying a license agreement for dairy-free yogurt. I didn’t think it had dairy for a minute. I regret buying the license and trusting someone else’s word.”
In a statement read during the investigation, Gosling said that under the licensing agreement, Planet Coconut is obligated to ensure that the HG1 you used is dairy-free.
Britt said that if she had known that milk contained milk protein, she would not have used it on the flatbread.
Jay Meiken, Brit’s interim CEO, said the company has produced 2.5 million yogurt-containing bars without any further incidents. He said the company had made a slew of changes and improvements in areas such as labeling and training.
The inquiry attended Thursday in support of the family of Marsh Tania and Nadim Adnan Labros, whose 15-year-old daughter Natasha died in 2016 after eating a baguette containing sesame seeds. Natasha was allergic to sesame.
The investigation is ongoing.