Hellmann’s Sues: 'Just Mayo' Isn't Even Mayo

It doesn't contain eggs, is false advertising, company says
By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 11, 2014 2:00 PM CST
Hellmann’s Sues: 'Just Mayo' Isn't Even Mayo
Hellmann's owner Unilever on Oct. 31, 2014 filed a lawsuit against a California company that uses the word "Mayo" in its sandwich spread name.   (AP Photo/Unilever)

Mayonnaise has standards, as its many and rabid devotees will tell you, and Hellmann's is going to bat for those standards: Set in its legal crosshairs is a product called Just Mayo, which, contends Hellmann's parent company Unilever, is not mayonnaise at all. Problem? Just Mayo—in an attempt to use plant-based ingredients instead of, oh, say, ingredients that may or may not come before the chicken—uses yellow peas instead of eggs. That makes it a spread, says Hellmann's, but to call it "mayonnaise" is false advertising. As the New York Times reports, the FDA defines mayonnaise as an emulsion of vegetable oil, either vinegar or lemon juice, and eggs. (See also: Kraft Miracle Whip, which doesn't meet the minimum percentage of vegetable oil outlined by the FDA, and has long had to market itself as a spread or salad dressing.)

Which is where it all gets a little murky, notes the Wall Street Journal: Just Mayo's parent company, Hampton Creek, is branding its product as "mayo," not "mayonnaise," and it's trumpeting the lack of egg rather than trying to pull one over on consumers. But Just Mayo's label does contain the image of an egg, the Times notes; Unilever is suing for Hampton Creek to kill the egg image, cough up three times its profits in damages, and cover Unilever's legal fees. The mayo throwdown underlines shifting American tastes, as well as aging or archaic definitions of traditional food categories: The Times cites one lawyer/food blogger, who writes that "It’s not Hampton Creek’s fault if its innovation is outpacing federal regulations," which in this case date back to 1957. (One prominent hummus maker wants the FDA to step in and set some standards on the presence of chickpeas.)

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