Unilever, the maker of Hellmann’s mayonnaise, is suing Hampton Creek, the start-up making plant-based Just Mayo, for false advertising. Unilever contends that Just Mayo is not mayo because it doesn’t contain eggs. Indeed, the FDA definition of mayonnaise includes “(c) Egg yolk-containing ingredients. Liquid egg yolks, frozen egg yolks, dried egg yolks, liquid whole eggs, frozen whole eggs, dried whole eggs, or any one or more of the foregoing ingredients listed in this paragraph with liquid egg white or frozen egg white.” (Scroll down for Sec. 169.140 Mayonnaise.)
While news sources are likening this war of words to a “David and Goliath” situation, Hampton Creek is backed by Bill Gates, Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang and Li Ka-shing, the richest man in Asia, hardly making it your average start-up. The media attention has resulted in increased sales for Hampton Creek.
Its product is a vegan “mayonnaise” made from Canadian yellow pea proteins. By the look of its packaging, it does appear to be mayonnaise not vegan mayonnaise, so I could see consumers getting confused thinking it was traditional mayonnaise with eggs. I think Unilever may have a point. Consumers who want traditional mayonnaise with eggs most likely do not want mayonnaise made with pea proteins in place of eggs, and the way Just Mayo is packaged makes it look as if it is traditional mayonnaise. And there’s something else that I just noticed in that FDA definition–the mayonnaise can contain “(3) Any spice (except saffron or turmeric) or natural flavoring, provided it does not impart to the mayonnaise a color simulating the color imparted by egg yolk.” This part of the definition was written clearly to deter manufacturers from adding a yellowish color to mislead consumers to think it was yellow from eggs. I don’t know anything about Canadian yellow peas, other than the name including yellow, but do they give off a yellowish color?
I have a suggestion for Hampton Creek that will save both companies on legal fees. How about changing the name from Just Mayo to Just Like Mayo?
PS. I don’t use Hellmann’s mayonnaise or any mayonnaise that contains soybean oil. I prefer safflower oil mayonnaise. It would be nice to see companies like Unilever STOP using soybean oil.