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US start-up in court for branding egg-free ‘mayo’

© Hampton Creek

Text by Ségolène ALLEMANDOU

Latest update : 2014-11-12

Mayonnaise, as everyone knows, is made from eggs, oil and vinegar or lemon juice, and has its origins in 17th century Mediterranean France (or possibly Spain).

A US legal battle launched Tuesday between food multinational Unilever and a small Californian health-food start-up isn’t about the sauce’s origins, however, but whether a company can market mayonnaise, or “mayo”, if it doesn’t contain egg yolks.

The US Food and Drug Administration lists mayonnaise as a product containing at least one egg yolk and oil.

Unilever, which sells the Hellman’s brand globally (except in France, where it sells Amora Dijon mayonnaise), has taken umbrage to start-up Hampton Creek labelling its egg-free product “Just Mayo”, which is made from a species of yellow pea.

By calling their product “Just Mayo”, Unilever claims, Hampton Creek is unfairly “stealing market share”.

Hellman’s mayonnaise rakes in more than billion dollars a year in the US – well ahead of ketchup and soy sauce – in a mayonnaise market worth some two billion dollars.

In a suit launched on Tuesday, Unilever said: “Consumers and cooks have an expectation that mayonnaise should both taste and perform like mayonnaise. Just Mayo does neither.”

David and Goliath

Hampton Creek, founded in 2011 with investments from Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Jerry Yang of Yahoo! and Asian billionaire Li Ka-Shing, started selling Just Mayo in the US at the beginning of 2014.

The company’s CEO Josh Tetrick insisted Hamilton Creek wasn’t trying to deceive its customers and that the bottle’s label stated it was an egg-free product.

In fact the label shows a white egg shape with a plant growing in front of it, which Tetrick said was a way of showing the product was made from plants and not eggs.

As far as Tetrick is concerned, Unilever’s lawsuit is a David and Goliath battle against century-old market-dominator Hellman’s and its owners Unilever.

“Today it's mayo, tomorrow it's a cookie ... next year it will be pasta,” Tetrick told reporters on Tuesday. “Maybe we'll see big cookie and big pasta lawsuits against us next."

“We just want to think intelligently and more future-oriented on how we actually feed people.”

He pointed out that another firm, Boulder Brands, has marketed egg-free “Mindful Mayo” without any legal consequences (so far).

Hamilton Creek’s fight with Unilever hasn’t gone unnoticed, and American celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern last Sunday launched an online petition at change.org, signed by 20,000 people, demanding: “Stop bullying sustainable food companies.”

Date created : 2014-11-12

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