YORK, P.E.I. — The Prince Edward Island seed company caught up in controversy over Cheerios' "Bring Back the Bees" campaign is defending itself — and says it has no regrets.
Veseys Seeds supplied seed packets for the cereal's North America campaign aimed at drawing attention to dwindling bee populations.
But it has been criticized online for introducing species that are allegedly invasive to North America.
John Barrett, Veseys' director of sales, marketing and development, says they aren't invasive — the seeds selected are the "perfect combination" to attract pollinators to a garden and they can be purchased in variety packages in seed stores across the continent.
"So it's not like we are all of a sudden introducing some poisonous, noxious, invasive plant," said Barrett.
In particular, questions have arisen about the forget-me-nots in the widlflower mix that are banned as a noxious weed in Massachusetts.
Barrett said it's the one area where his company could have done a better job of clarifying, and he wants to set the record straight.
He said the seed included by his company is an annual, not a perennial, and therefore can't be invasive. He said the idea is to have something to plant in a garden.
"They (the public) are getting a little packet of seeds that they can grow in their window box or in a tiny patch in their garden."
Barrett said Veseys, a family-owned company since 1939, has a 40-acre research farm and a full laboratory that checks its seeds for such things as germination rates, noxious varieties and weed content. He said the seeds in question are not genetically modified, as some critics charged.
"We would never jeopardize a 78-year reputation with customers across North America over a little promotion," he said.
Barrett said some environmentalists raised questions when the General Mills promotion kicked off in Canada last year, but he said the negative attention increased tenfold with the ad campaign's introduction to the massive U.S. market.
Still, Barrett said interest in his company has increased continent-wide — and primarily for the right reasons.
He said 196,000 Americans signed up for Veseys' weekly email newsletter within the first week of the campaign's launch, and the company had to print an additional 50,000 U.S. seed catalogues to keep up with requests. In Canada, 72,000 people signed up for the newsletter.
He said it doesn't hurt that the company's name, logo and contact information is on 11 million boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios.
"I don't need to come across as cocky, but we don't need to get ourselves involved in something that is going to have blowback on us. In this particular case it was perfect timing and it's done some amazing things."
- By Keith Doucette in Halifax
The Canadian Press