The Mayo Wars: Unilever Sues California Start-Up for False Advertising

The Mayo Wars: Unilever Sues California Start-Up for False Advertising
Image: Hampton Creek
November 14, 2014

Unilever is fighting to protect the sanctity of mayonnaise. True mayonnaise, it says, is made with eggs.

This is the crux of a lawsuit the Hellmann's maker is bringing against Hampton Creek, a small California start-up that makes a vegan spread called Just Mayo. Being a vegan product, the mayo is egg-free and is instead made with peas, sorghum and other plants.

Without eggs, Unilever believes that the vegan spread doesn't meet the legal definition of the makeup of mayonnaise. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), "mayonnaise is the emulsified semisolid food prepared from vegetable oil(s), one or both of the acidifying ingredients specified in paragraph (b) of this section, and one or more of the egg yolk-containing ingredients specified in paragraph (c) of this section."

Thus, calling the product Just Mayo is false advertising.

"Our Hellmann's brand is made from real eggs," a Unilever spokesperson wrote to NPR in a statement, and, "we simply wish to protect both consumers from being misled and also our brand."

Just Mayo may be a niche product, but it can be found in major retailers, including Walmart. Hampton Creek CEO Josh Tetrick told NPR that the company is preparing its own counter suit against Unilever. "We think this is silly," he said, adding that the name of the product uses the word mayo not mayonnaise.

More than 26,000 people also seem to think so, too, and signed a petition urging Unilever to drop the suit and to, "stop bullying sustainable food companies."

Make Your Own

For those who like to experiment in the kitchen, mayonnaise is pretty simple to make.