In late 2014, Unilever, parent company to Hellmann’s, best-selling brand of mayonnaise in the U.S., filed a lawsuit against Hampton Creek, the Bay-area startup behind Just Mayo, an eggless vegan mayonnaise that’s quickly captured a strong and growing segment of the mayo market.
The lawsuit alleged that Hampton Creek was in violation of FDA regulations surrounding the word “mayonnaise” and any variations, including its flagship product's use of “mayo,” because the company did not include eggs in the product.
But Unilever’s lawsuit backfired; it only brought more attention to Hampton Creek and its vegan mayonnaise and other product offerings. While the lawsuit was eventually dropped, warning letters from the FDA succeeded it, also about the use of the word “mayo” on the eggless products. But even the FDA eventually backed down from its half-century old definition of mayonnaise, allowing Hampton Creek to keep its mayo’s name with a few minor tweaks to the packaging and marketing.
And according to Hampton Creek, people want eggless mayonnaise—not just for the vegans who eschew animal products, but for those who can’t tolerate eggs (one of the most common food allergens), and those who have concerns over the environmental impact of factory farms.
“We want to connect with regular people, Hampton Creek founder Josh Tetrick told Food Navigator, “because that’s the only way you can have a real impact.”
Tetrick and Hampton Creek appear to be right in their estimation. While the company hasn’t disclosed earnings, Tetrick recently reported a 350 percent increase in sales in 2015--its fifth year in business. The company also claims to beat Hellmann’s in taste tests; and Tetrick’s overt political agenda—he recently penned an open letter to the 2016 presidential candidates about the food system—makes purchasing mayonnaise a lot more interesting than selecting sandwich spreads in decades past.
So in what may be an ‘if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em' motivation, just slightly more than a year after it attempted to thwart Hampton Creek’s mayo, Unilever recently announced that it too is releasing its own eggless version of Hellmann’s. The “Carefully Crafted” line will use modified food starch made from corn and potatoes instead of eggs (Hampton Creek uses pea protein). Hellmann's is also releasing certified organic mayonnaise options.
"At Hellmann's, we're committed to bringing out the best by providing delicious choices that fit the needs and changing preferences of families, without sacrificing the taste and blue ribbon quality they've come to count on from America's favorite mayonnaise brand," Russel Lilly, Marketing Director at Hellmann's said in a statement.
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"Our fans have been asking us for organic and eggless options with the creamy taste of Hellmann's for years,” said Lilly. “We listened and responded by giving them choices that are priced competitively and available nationwide."
After Unilever brought its lawsuit against Hampton Creek in 2014, Tetrick called out the mayo giant in a countersuit over its alleged sustainability initiative, one Tetrick said didn’t line up with the company's dependence on factory-farmed eggs and genetically modified ingredients.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to solve the big problems like food’s impact on environment and health,” Tetrick told the New York Times.
And whether or not Unilever already had plans to release its own eggless mayonnaise before suing Hampton Creek, or if it’s simply responding to the growing demand for eggless (mayonnaise) products, Unilever is jumping into a category that seems to only be spreading.
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image via Hellmann's