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.