The owner of an El Cajon-based meat company that’s received numerous complaints for its sales tactics and product quality responds to critics.
Farm Fresh Foods’ sales representatives travel door-to-door, selling what they call “restaurant-quality” beef, chicken, and seafood, at supermarket prices.
The salesperson initially offers a “great deal” which supposedly gets even better every time a potential customer says “no.”
Ben Chouinard, the owner of Farm Fresh Foods, told NBC 7 his business offers products and excellent value direct to buyers at their doorstep.
San Diego resident Dottie Garton, an experienced cook, doesn’t agree.
She shared her bad experience with Farm Fresh Foods with our NBC 7 Investigates Team.
After purchasing beef from Farm Fresh Foods, including one selection labelled as “bacon-wrapped filets,” she said, “I cooked one…then tried to eat it. And I couldn’t chew it even… I actually spit it out and looked at it. I thought, ‘Are you kidding’?”
Farm Fresh Foods claims another of its beef products is “all natural chopped steak,” but Garton, who describes it as the worst meat she has ever tasted, filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau of San Diego County.
The complaint is one of nearly 40 filed with the BBB against the El Cajon company.
“We see the same complaint over and over and over again without the business fixing it,” said President-CEO of BBB Sheryl Reichert.
NBC 7 Investigates also found that Farm Fresh Foods lost its BBB accreditation in 2012 and has a “D” rating on a scale of “A” to “F.”
“The meat was horrible quality,” wrote one customer. “They are selling inferior meat for an outrageous amount of money.”
Another customer wrote, “All are tough and full of gristle.”
Garton admitted that she let her guard down when the Farm Fresh salesperson knocked on her door.
She said, “He looked like a good person, and somebody’s son.”
According to Garton, the salesperson offered her a special deal and a special discount and pressured her into taking it on the spot.
He offered her the meat for $179 rather than the usual price of $279, and he said the deal would only be good that day.
According to the BBB’s Reichert, high-pressure salespeople often push inferior products.
“It’s always been a bad experience for consumers,” she said.
“Yelp!” reviews of Farm Fresh Foods also include complaints of bad experiences from unhappy customers.
One customer’s review described the meat as, “somewhere between mystery meat and ‘what the (blank) is it’?”
Another reviewer said Farm Fresh’s filet mignons were the “worst tasting, toughest and [nastiest] meat I’ve ever had.”
NBC 7 Investigates contacted Farm Fresh Foods, where an employee named David Allen initially refused our request for an on-camera interview and would only answer our questions in writing. However, he changed his mind later that week.
NBC 7 Investigates found that ‘David Allen’ was actually an alias used by Ben Chouinard, the owner of Farm Fresh Foods.
Chouinard admitted he had panicked when we first contacted him about all of the customer complaints and BBB ratings problems.
Chouinard said, “The BBB report and the NBC inquires has sort of cast a wake-up call for me to take an honest and unfiltered look at how we do business.”
Chouinard plans to turn his company around by requiring his salespeople to read and sign an Ethics Code that prohibits “high pressure tactics” and “fast-talking sales jargon.”
“We will not accept that in our organization,” he said.
Chouinard is also giving customers a new “Bill of Rights” urging them to contact him directly if they do not receive the answers they want from his salespeople.
“I will go to the depths of wherever I need to, to make sure these customers are happy,” he said.
As for the quality of the meat, Chouinard acknowledged that some of the Farm Fresh steaks failed the customer “taste test.”
He said he is planning to meet with his suppliers to correct this issue.
Despite all of the changes, Chouinard said he has no plans, at least for now, to change his “no refund” policy, which allows dissatisfied customers to exchange their product for different cuts of meat, fish or chicken, but does not allow for cash refunds.
Garton told NBC 7 Investigates she exchanged most of her original purchase, but she was not satisfied with her exchange. “The chicken breast was dry, tough. It was all bad,” she said.
The BBB advises against buying products at your front door or from a van in a parking lot.
“We consider it inherently bad and we will discourage all consumers from during business with bulk itinerant door-to-door sales people,” they said.
Chouinard disagrees with the BBB’s warning. He believes his company, and others, offer good products and excellent value direct to buyers at the doorstep.