Plant-based food startup Hampton Creek is readying a response and planning to counter-sue major food corporation Unilever over the meaning of ‘mayo.’
Unilever filed a lawsuit against Hampton Creek this weekend, involving its “Just Mayo” product. Unilever’s two main concerns are over market share for its Hellmann’s mayonnaise product and consumer confusion over what it means to call something ‘mayo.’
CEO Josh Tetrick argues this is really a fight over consumer rights. “I think we’re on the right side of the law and ultimately on the right side of offering a better food product that consumers want,” says Tetrick.
Unilever’s claim is that Hampton Creek is pushing a product that is acting like it is mayonnaise but doesn’t meet the definition. The FDA includes a very nuanced description of mayonnaise as something that contains egg yolks and oil. Kraft Foods Miracle Whip, which contains no eggs and less than 65 percent oil, does not meet the definition, either. It’s technically labled a salad dressing, even though it’s used as a mayonnaise spread. The $60 billion giant food corporation contends that while Hampton Creek doesn’t say it is a mayonnaise, the “Just Mayo” label also shouldn’t be allowed.
“Under federal regulations, common dictionary definitions and as consumers understand it, “mayonnaise” or “mayo” is a product that contains eggs. That ingredient does not exist in Just Mayo,” states the suit.
The lawsuit’s main concern seems to be loss of revenue to Hampton Creek. It flatly states that, “Just Mayo already is stealing market share from Hellmann’s,” and that, “Unilever will continue to suffer irreparable harm in the marketplace.” This is if something is not done to stop Hampton Creek from labeling their product with the word “mayo,” according to Unilever.
Hampton Creek has experienced an insane amount of growth over the last nine months. Costco, Walmart, Target, Dollar Tree and a slew of other retail locations have added the “Just Mayo” products to their shelves in thousands of locations across the U.S.
Celebrity chef Andrew Zimmerman has since started a petition on Change.org to gain public support against Hellmann’s claim. Actress Minnie Driver backed him and Hampton Creek up by tweeting out about it:
Tetrick argues this is a frivolous lawsuit from a giant corporation afraid of losing power. “It’s the same with Lyft and Uber against the taxis. What we’re doing is changing the world for the better and providing healthier options,” he says.
Unilever has responded by saying they do support innovation, but that the suit is over a misleading label that is confusing shoppers. “It is simply not accurate to label the Hampton Creek product as ‘Mayo’ or to reinforce the link with images of ingredients, in this case eggs, that are not even used. In contrast, our Hellmann’s brand is made from real eggs and delivers great taste. We simply wish to protect both consumers from being misled and also our brand,” said a Unilever spokesperson in an email response to TechCrunch.
Tetrick fired back, saying, “Antiquated thinking won’t feed the world or strengthen the planet.” He plans to send Unilever a response to its claims in the very near future.