Sometimes I think my relationship with mayonnaise is unhealthy, but with new supposedly healthful versions of the condiment hitting the market each year, my love might not be too gluttonous. Except one of those alternate options is now the subject of a high-dollar lawsuit between one of the world’s largest mayo makers and a start-up claiming to be the next big thing when it comes to the creamy condiment.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Unilever, the parent company of Hellmann’s, sued San Francisco-based Hampton Creek for false advertising over the company’s use of the word “mayo” in its eggless sandwich spread’s name.
According to the suit, Unilever claims that the name of the Just Mayo spread misleads consumers because regulators and dictionaries define mayonnaise as a spread that contains eggs.
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified compensation and a change to the Just Mayo label, claims that the name of Hampton Creek’s egg-free product implies it is a mayonnaise and that the company is “stealing market share from Hellmann’s.”
“Consumers and cooks have an expectation that mayonnaise should both taste and perform like mayonnaise,” the complaint states. “Just Mayo does neither.”
Officials with Hampton Creek tells the WSJ that it calls its spread “mayo,” not “mayonnaise,” and it advertises the absence of eggs as a benefit, so it couldn’t be misleading to consumers.
“This is big business,” Josh Tetrick, chief executive for Hampton Creek says of the recent lawsuit. “We’re competing directly with a company that hasn’t had real competition in decades. These things happen.”
Officials with Unilever say they support providing consumers with choices. However, its suit contends that Just Mayo’s “false name is part of a larger campaign and pattern of unfair competition by Hampton Creek to falsely promote Just Mayo spread as tasting better than, and being superior to, Best Foods and Hellmann’s mayonnaise.”
The suit, which was filed on October 31, has gained the attention of many consumers through the use of a change.org petition asking Unilever to “stop bullying sustainable food companies,” the WSJ reports. So far, the petition has more than 12,000 supporters.
Unilever currently holds the largest share of the U.S. mayonnaise market, which has an estimated worth of $2 billion annually.
Hellmann’s Seeks Justice vs. Just Mayo [The Wall Street Journal]