It's Just Mayo, but is it mayonnaise?

by Jeff Gelski
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Hampton Creek makes Just Mayo, an egg-free spread.

 

ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, N.J. — Unilever has sued the maker of Just Mayo over alleged false advertising, claiming the product fails to meet the standard of identity for mayonnaise because it contains no eggs. A petition defending Just Mayo accuses Unilever of “corporate bullying.”

Conopco, Inc., doing business as Unilever, filed the lawsuit Oct. 31 in a U.S. district court in New Jersey. The lawsuit claims San Francisco-based Hampton Creek, Inc. sells a sandwich spread called Just Mayo that is a plant-based vegan alternative to mayonnaise. Unilever, which has a U.S. office in Englewood Cliffs, sells Best Foods and Hellman’s brands of mayonnaise that compete against Just Mayo.

Hampton Creek plans to keep selling Just Mayo.

“We didn’t start Hampton Creek to think or do small things,” said Josh Tetrick, founder and chief executive officer of Hampton Creek. “We’re on the right side of the law and where our world is going.”

Unilever’s lawsuit claims the Food and Drug Administration’s standard of identity defines mayonnaise as the emulsified semi-solid food prepared from vegetable oil or vegetable oils; an acidifying ingredient of either (1) vinegar or (2) lemon juice or lime juice, or both; and an egg-yolk containing ingredient.

Just Mayo has no egg ingredient in it. The lawsuit points out Just Mayo products have an egg pictured on the label.

The lawsuit also claims consumers understand mayo as shorthand for mayonnaise and that the Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary defines “mayo” as “mayonnaise.” Dictionaries also define “just” as “exactly,” “precisely,” “only” or “simply.”

“In light of these dictionary definitions, a product called ‘Just Mayo’ should be exactly, precisely, only and simply mayonnaise,” the lawsuit said. “Defendant’s Just Mayo is none of these things.”

Unilever’s lawsuit claims Hampton Creek’s conduct is false advertising in violation of the Lanham Act and the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act.

A petition at change.org accuses Unilever of “corporate bullying.” Andrew Zimmern, a chef who appears on a Travel Channel TV show called “Bizarre Foods,” started the petition, which more than 20,000 people had signed by Nov. 12.

“Unilever, a U.K.-based $60 billion multinational corporation, filed a lawsuit confessing that Hampton Creek is taking away market share from a couple of its products: Hellmann’s and Best Foods,” the petition said. “Thus, as Unilever admits, it’s attempting to rely on an archaic standard of identity regulation that was created before World War II to mandate that Hampton Creek removes its products from store shelves.”

Hampton Creek on its Twitter page on Nov. 12 said it had received more than 51,000 messages of support.

Hampton Creek claims Just Mayo offers certain benefits because it lacks eggs. Just Mayo uses less land and water and produces fewer carbon emissions than egg-containing Hellmann’s mayonnaise, according to Hampton Creek, and Just Mayo has no cholesterol and less sodium and saturated fat than Hellmann’s mayonnaise.

Unilever’s lawsuit claims its mayonnaise products have certain better functional qualities than Just Mayo. The lawsuit claims the blend of ingredients in mayonnaise binds together the elements of the sauce and adds flavor and texture in the process.

“Because Just Mayo is a vegan product lacking the same emulsifying ingredients as real mayonnaise, when it is heated, its oils separate and do not bind the ingredients together,” the lawsuit said. “Consumers and cooks have an expectation that mayonnaise should both taste and perform like mayonnaise. Just Mayo does neither.”

For a copy of the lawsuit, visit www.eatdrinkpolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/Conopco-v-Hampton-Creek-Complaint.pdf.

For more on the standard of identity for mayonnaise, visit http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=169.140&SearchTerm=mayonnaise.
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READER COMMENTS (8)

By Bill Palmer 11/18/2014 8:52:48 AM
Thanks Unilever. Without your lawsuit, and this article, I wouldn't have known about Just Mayo. Now I do!

By Elliott Hirsh 11/15/2014 4:38:18 AM
Just Mayo better start thinking of another name. The standard of identity is there for a purpose. Of course when Coke was labeling their "pure premium squeezed orange juice" (made from concentrate) contrary to the standard of identify, confusing consumers and engaging in unfair competition and misleading advertising, someone should have sued them too.

By Bett 11/13/2014 11:13:55 PM
And the last time anyone heated up jar mayonnaise for use as a sauce? Gah, the very idea makes me nauseated. The only people heating "sauce mayonnaise" would be a professional or advanced amateur chef, and the only ones worth the title would be making their own sauces. Additionally, any decent chef is capable of making a good egg-free substitute, if they have a guest who can't or prefers not to eat eggs. This lawsuit is so clearly a craven and cowardly attempt to suppress competition from a company that's doing the right thing. I dare Hellman's and Best to create a proper egg-free, organic mayo, and compete properly by making a better product. Try the products out there. I have been using Vegenaise for - gosh it must be 15 years - and there are a few more - knock them all out of the ball park by making a better product. I dont' care if I can heat it, I want to put it on my sandwiches and in my eggless and potato salads.

By tom 11/13/2014 11:12:19 AM
As a pastry and bread manufacturer I am forced by my customers to observe FDA standards of identity. Just Mayo should also. It's not mayo..

By Philip 11/12/2014 3:09:12 PM
Only comments found here would actually defend Unilever. Unilever produces food and personal products full of chemicals. The corporate behemoth knows how this generation is changing the direction for processed foods and cleaning it up. So it's only "natural" haha, that Unilever would pursue this. I consider mayo the basic texture and flavor. An egg free version, offering the product to vegetarian and vegans is perfectly fine. Stop fighting the entrepreneurs and those who actually care about what is IN the product vs. how much money we can possibly make with cheap ingredients. And i commend the clever branding... "The lawsuit points out Just Mayo products have an egg pictured on the label" did you notice the plant spouting in the egg? The millennials would understand it...apparently the money hungry older CEOs cannot. ;)

By Jeff Johnson 11/12/2014 2:21:04 PM
Good for Unilever! The rest of us food companies have to abide by FDA regs, why should Hampton Creek get a pass?

By Bruce Floyd 11/12/2014 2:10:14 PM
The Standards of Identity were the first consumer protections laws. The new product would be cheaper to produce than mayonnaise. Salad Dressing is the generic name for Mayonnaise substitutes which have been around for over 50 years. The FDA has not been enforcing the Standards of Identity. Why should consumer fraud be permitted when it is a small company? If the product had been introduced by a large company, the consumer activist would have been howling for government sanctions.

By Chef Doos 11/12/2014 1:49:43 PM
From the above statements I find for the plaintiff, the defendant clearly knows what MAYO is as easily read through his answers. However in light of expensive litigation would it not be simple to print a label stating egg free mayo spread, send it to all distributors and affix it to the jar. The mighty "buck" strikes again!