Mayo, market share, and justice?

New company innovates and makes good product. Big company feels threatened. Big company could develop new ideas of their own, but instead they sue new company over a technicality and get government agencies involved. One government agency improperly oversteps their authority. The story unfolds…

Hampton Creek, a San Francisco start-up formed in 2011, began producing a mayo alternative with no eggs (Just Mayo) and it became pretty popular. The product is on the shelves at WalMart and Costco stores.

In 2014, Unilever (maker of Hellman’s) sued Hampton Creek. Mayonnaise, as defined in the dictionary and by the FDA, must contain some form of egg yolk. Unilever claimed that Just Mayo was not “exactly, precisely, only and simply mayonnaise” as defined. Unilever dropped the lawsuit in December 2014, saying that it was so Hampton Creek could address the issues directly with the regulatory authorities (meaning the FDA).

Michele Simon, a public health attorney who wrote about the suit, stated: “It’s not about using the (mayo) word, it’s about the fact that the company is taking market share away.” Unilever’s own legal complaint said “Hampton Creek is seizing market share from Unilever’s Best Foods and Hellmann’s brands of mayonnaise products.” 

Here the story takes a twist worthy of its own sideshow – For some mysterious reason the American Egg Board decided to get involved. An article at quartz.com states:

In an August 2013 email, Joanne Ivy, president of the American Egg Board, refers to Just Mayo as “a crisis and major threat to the future of the egg product business.” The email concluded with the line: “‘What are we doing at AEB with regard to this competing product??’ We need to have an answer!”

Well, the AEB isn’t supposed to do anything about competing products. It is supposed to educate and promote. Michele Simon covers the Egg Board’s involvement in this article at EatDrinkPolitics.com. It is well worth reading. Emails obtained through the FOIA show that the Egg Board carried out a disturbing pattern of attacks on Hampton Creek during 2013 and 2014 – inappropriately and perhaps illegally overstepping their mandate.

None of that was today’s news, but I had to give you some background because today’s news is that the FDA has now decided that Hampton Creek can keep the Just Mayo product name by making some reasonable changes to the labeling.

Check out the full story at Ars Technica, the NY Times, and quartz.com.

 

 

links and further reading:

http://www.eatdrinkpolitics.com/2014/11/09/big-mayo-files-frivolous-lawsuit-against-eggless-competitor/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/business/wp/2014/11/10/big-foods-weird-war-over-the-meaning-of-mayonnaise-americas-top-condiment/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/08/25/fda-just-mayo-isnt-mayonnaise-because-it-isnt-made-with-eggs/

There is literally a US government conspiracy against vegan mayo

http://www.eatdrinkpolitics.com/2015/09/02/hampton-creek-targeted-by-usda-controlled-egg-industry-program/#more-6392

http://arstechnica.com/science/2015/12/egg-less-condiment-can-still-be-called-mayo-fda/

The FDA has decided that vegan Just Mayo is actually mayo after all

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/18/business/fda-allows-maker-of-just-mayo-to-keep-products-name.html