Unilever Sues Just Mayo, Claims Spread Isn't Real Mayonnaise

Left: AP/Eric Risberg; Right: Alamy
For years, the main combatants in the Great Mayo Wars have been Hellmann's, Miracle Whip and maybe Duke's. But the battlefield recently expanded to include Just Mayo, a San Francisco startup that's apparently too much of an upstart: Hellman's parent is suing it because Just Mayo isn't "mayonnaise" enough.

Unilever (UL), maker of Hellmann's and Best Foods brands of mayonnaise, recently filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in New Jersey claiming Hampton Creek, maker of Just Mayo, is guilty of false advertising for calling its spread "mayo." According to its ingredient list, Just Mayo contains canola oil, pea protein, white vinegar and other flavorings. But it doesn't contain eggs.

Unilever says you've got to have eggs to call yourself mayonnaise, and is demanding that Hampton Creek change the Just Mayo logo (an egg with a pea shoot growing up through it), recall its products, and stop claiming superior taste. The multinational food giant, which reportedly says the egg-less "Just Mayo" is taking market share from its appropriately egged products, also is seeking compensation for unspecified damages.

Hellmanns Mayo Lawsuit
AP Photo/Eric RisbergHampton Creek Foods uses yellow peas (like those pictured) in place of eggs in the recipe for Just Mayo. Hellmann's owner Unilever says that goes against the legal definition of mayonnaise.
The Food and Drug Administration defines mayonnaise as "the emulsified semisolid food" (yum!) prepared from vegetable oil and egg yolks. Hampton Creek says it's selling "mayo" not "mayonnaise," and that the absence of eggs is not hidden from consumers, but is touted clearly as a benefit.

Josh Tetrick, Hampton Creek's chief exec, told the Wall Street Journal that the lawsuit doesn't shock him. "This is big business," Tetrick is quoted. "We're competing directly with a company that hasn't had real competition in decades. These things happen."

Close your ears, Miracle Whip (which, it must be noted, is marketed as a spread, not a mayonnaise because -- you guessed it -- its recipe uses no eggs).

The suit is shining the spotlight on the fierce competition between big, established brands and their new rivals -- natural, organic and sustainable brands that appeal to consumers' growing concerns about food additives and increasing desire to eat "clean."

Unilever reported $62 billion in revenue last year. Hampton Creek reportedly has raised $30 million from investors, including Bill Gates, who think plant-based products are better for people and the planet.

This little battle of the mayo bottles is getting a lot of attention. A recent change.org petition, which so far as over 22,000 signatures, says "even purchasing just one jar of Hampton Creek's "Just Mayo" instead of Best Foods/Hellmann's saves land and water usage, reduces CO2 emissions, eliminates hundreds of milligrams of cholesterol." The petition goes on to call Unilever's lawsuit "corporate bullying."
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