Food Labeling

Your Pea-Based Mayo Is Safe—Hellman's Drops Lawsuit Against Competitor


Just … keep it away from me, okay?
Hampton Creek

If you are a vegan who loves disgusting sandwich spreads (sorry—personal bias showing), you no longer have to worry about the fate of Just Mayo. Unilever, the megacorp that produces Hellman's mayonnaise, has dropped its lawsuit to try to force a rival company to change its label.

The dispute, as former Reason intern Lucian McMahon described in November, is because Just Mayo, produced by Hampton Creek, does not contain any eggs. It's made from yellow pea protein for the benefit of vegans. You'd think never having to touch mayonnaise would be one of the net benefits of being a vegan, but I digress. Food and Drug Administration regulations requires that food products labeled as mayonnaise include "egg yolk-containing ingredients," to avoid the kind of destructive marketplace chaos that would obviously result otherwise. Ford would quickly introduce a convertible, sporty two-door Mayonnaise to the world, and people would get hernias trying to mix them into potato salad. And then Obamacare would get really messed up.

So Unilever sued to protect us uneducated consumers with fraud—not to try to use absurd government regulations to bludgeon a competitor to death. No, really. Stop laughing. Actually, in order to launch a suit they had to argue that Hampton Creek was "stealing" part of its market share by calling its product "mayonnaise," as though tons of vegans were normally making an exception for this one particular jar of goo.

But now Unilever has announced it will drop it suit. From the Associated Press:

Unilever said Thursday that it decided to withdraw the lawsuit so that Hampton Creek can address its label directly with industry groups and regulatory authorities.

Hampton Creek has had "positive conversations" with industry groups and government officials, said the San Francisco-based company's CEO, Josh Tetrick. He said that Hampton Creek may make the word "just" larger on the label but has no plans to change the product's name or its labeling.

Just Mayo's label states that it doesn't contain eggs. The label features a white egg with a plant growing in front, which Tetrick has said is the company's way of showing that they use plants instead of chicken eggs.

Probably the funniest part of this whole silly dispute is that Unilever ended up having to change the descriptions of ingredients in some of its own products on its website from "mayonnaise" to "mayonnaise dressing" because they weren't even in compliance with the very regulations they were trying to use to punish Hampton Creek.

Oh, and Tetrick said the publicity from the whole silly fight actually increased their sales. The Streisand Effect strikes again.

Keep Food Legal's Bayelin Linnekin also wrote about the mayo conflict here. The most important lesson here: Don't serve me anything with mayonnaise in it, pea-based or egg.