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Paul Zimmerman

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Is Mayonnaise Without Eggs Really Mayo?

A San Francisco startup, Hampton Creek Inc., says yes.  At the very least, the company feels it should be able to market Just Mayo, its plant-based, egg-free product, as mayo.  Just Mayo is currently sold in 20,000 stores including Whole Foods, Costco, Walmart, Safeway and Kroger. 

Unilever, whose brands include Hellmann’s and Best Foods and which currently dominates the mayonnaise market, disagrees.  In a lawsuit filed in New Jersey federal court on October 31, Unilever claims that Just Mayo is duping consumers into buying the eggless, vegan product because the jar prominently displays the word “Mayo” and contains a white egg on its label.  The company is specifically suing under the Lanham Act, a 1946 federal law prohibiting companies from using trademarks in a manner that is likely to confuse consumers.  The consumer goods giant alleges that Just Mayo does not meet the FDA definition of “mayonnaise” established in 1957 because the product contains no eggs, and is wrongfully infringing on the $2 billion per year mayonnaise industry; in particular, Unilever’s complaint accuses Just Mayo of “seizing market share from Unilever’s Best Foods and Hellmann’s brands.”  

Hampton Creek CEO, Josh Tetrick, says that the label clearly says “egg-free” and that Unilever is hypocritical because it hasn’t stuck to its own definition of mayonnaise; certain Hellmann’s brands contain olive oil, and lack the amount of oils to meet the FDA’s definition.  Industry watchdogs also argue that the Just Mayo product is responding to consumer demands for alternative products perceived as being more sustainable and healthy.

This holiday season, the branding battle may determine whether consumers’ leftover turkey sandwiches are made with traditional mayonnaise, or an eggless alternative.

This article is not offered as, and should not be relied on as, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice in specific situations.