Hellmann’s Company has Withdrawn Its Suit Against Just Mayo
Hampton Creek, the company behind Just Mayo, a product that is not mayonnaise, just got out of a lawsuit filed by Unilever, the maker of Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise, on the grounds that the name of Just Mayo is false advertising since the product contains no egg, and thus does not fit the definition of mayo. Unilever said that this false advertising was stealing market share from Hellmann’s, one of the first commercial mayonnaise brands.
Unilever has dropped its lawsuit so that “Hampton Creek can address its label directly with industry groups and regulatory authorities.” They may well have dropped the lawsuit due to too many folks calling it ‘frivolous.’ This is, of course, a typical Goliath response, where the public automatically sides with the small company against the giant one. Apparently, many consumers would rather be duped by label-decorating bullshit than to see a big company win a lawsuit against a small one.
What is Mayonnaise, Legally?
So, what is the legal definition of mayonnaise? Well, when we say legal definition we are referring to the Standard of Identity for mayonnaise as set forth by the Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. The Code of Federal Regulations, or CFR, is a codification of the general and permanent rules set forth by executive departments and agencies of the federal government. Title 21 of the CFR is reserved for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The standard of identity for mayonnaise is found in Title 21, Chapter I, Subchapter B, Part 169: Food Dressings and Flavorings.
Mayonnaise is the emulsified semisolid food prepared from vegetable oil(s), one or both of the acidifying ingredients specified in paragraph (b) of this section, and one or more of the egg yolk-containing ingredients specified in paragraph (c) of this section. One or more of the ingredients specified in paragraph (d) of this section may also be used. The vegetable oil(s) used may contain an optional crystallization inhibitor as specified in paragraph (d)(7) of this section. All the ingredients from which the food is fabricated shall be safe and suitable. Mayonnaise contains not less than 65 percent by weight of vegetable oil. Mayonnaise may be mixed and packed in an atmosphere in which air is replaced in whole or in part by carbon dioxide or nitrogen.
The egg-yolk-containing ingredients do not have to be fresh whole eggs. They can be liquid egg yolks, frozen whole eggs, dried whole eggs, or any combination of these with liquid egg whites or frozen egg white.
Vinegar or lemon juice may be used, and any spice can be used to flavor the mayonnaise except for saffron or turmeric since either of those could give the mayonnaise a color similar to the color given by the egg yolk. You’ll notice that Just Mayo contains beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is a pigment with a red-orange color. Mayonnaise cannot use any sort of colorant.
The code also lists the nomenclature. In other words, it sets out what the product is called. The name of the food is “Mayonnaise.” It is not mayo, at least not legally. This means that there is no standard of identity for mayo. The word is not legally defined. Regardless, mayo has an identity. It is short for mayonnaise.
Why is a Standard of Identity for Mayonnaise or Other Products Important?
Many clueless articles have been written about this “mayo” controversy, claiming that the lawsuit is just Hellmann’s way of protecting a “mayonnaise monopoly.” This is completely ignorant and is a theory put forth by people who have no idea why a standard of identity for food products exists. Is it to protect the food industry from unfair competition? YES. But it is also to protect you, the consumer, from not having any clue what a food product might actually be when you purchase it. Imagine if “peanut butter” could be anything at all, even something that did not contain peanuts? How would you like having to figure out which of hundreds of products was actually “a butter made from peanuts?”
Standards of identity matter in the food business. Anyone claiming that such legal definitions are silly does not know what he or she is talking about. There is absolutely nothing ‘weird’ about such a question arising. These questions arise quite often, in fact. Making it a philosophy problem is what is silly. Technical definitions exist for a very concrete reason.
Fake Mayo Responds
So what did Hampton Creek say, after the lawsuit was withdrawn? In their typical self-righteous way they said that not only were they having “positive” conversations with industry groups and government officials, but the lawsuit had been a boon to them by helping them “get their story out.” CEO Josh Tetrick also said that Unilever is “a classy bunch of people who realized that this isn’t aligned with their corporate ethos.”
Ethos is a fancy marketing-speak for “character.” In other words, he is saying that the suit was not in line with their guiding principles. Again, we see philosophy replacing actual concrete terms like mayonnaise.
What is Just Mayo?
So what is that story? The company makes a product that is not mayonnaise but they call it mayo. They claim that calling it Just “Mayo” was their effort to meet labeling requirements. This seems to be truthful, on some level, since the word mayo, as we have seen, is not legally defined, but the word mayonnaise is. However, we all know what we mean when we say “mayo,’ don’t we? We mean mayonnaise. Is Just Mayo mayonnaise? NO. It is oil (with the label decoration “non GMO), vinegar, lemon juice, pea protein, modified food starch, and seasonings. There seems to be a version with or without preservative, in the form of Calcium Disodium EDTA, the same preservative as in Hellmann’s Mayonnaise.
They seem to have gotten the “modified food starch” right past their ‘health conscious’ customers. Modified food starch is a generic term for any number of food starches (hundreds) that have been highly modified to enhance their general properties so they can be used as better thickeners, stabilizers, or emulsifiers. The processes used to do this are many and varied.
Modified food starches, which may well come from selectively bred and/or genetically modified crops, are considered food additives. A product that contains modified food starches is probably not something that can reasonably be claimed to contain ‘all-natural’ ingredients. The word natural on food labels is a problem in itself, since most ‘starch,’ such as corn starch, is not exactly in its natural context when used in a food. Hampton Creek seems to be steering clear of “natural” but its proponents are diving right into this semantic quagmire that is “all natural.”
Genetically modified “starches” are a much more attractive option in the food industry and since corn is a major contributor to these starch products, how do we know whether the modified food starch in Just Mayo comes from genetically modified corn or other starchy crops? Does it matter? Not to me. But, you will note that, for their canola oil they list non-GMO. It is curious that they don’t bother to mention whether the food starch is also non-GMO. In for a penny, in for a pound.
The company claims that the product is “outrageously delicious, better for your body, for your wallet, and for the planet. It’s a piece of the philosophy to make the good thing a little easier.”
Green-washing is a populare marketing tactic today and if you can convince people they are a “better person” because they use fake mayonnaise, why not do it? If you yourself, however, believe you are a better person because you buy fake mayonnaise, then you are a marketer’s dream.
Just Mayo Nutrition
What about the nutrition? Well, Just Mayo has 10 grams of fat per one tablespoon serving. So does mayonnaise. It has one gram of saturated fat. Mayonnaise has 1.5 grams. However, and this is undoubtedly the origin of their health claims, Just Mayo has no cholesterol, whereas real mayonnaise has 5 milligrams per serving. Will this 5 milligrams of cholesterol make a difference to your health, with moderate consumption? NO. There is no evidence that this small amount of dietary cholesterol, from the small amount of egg (mayonnaise has much more oil than egg) will make a difference to your health.
The sodium content of Just Mayo is 80 milligrams per serving. For mayonnaise, it’s 90 milligrams. Just Mayo has one gram of carbohydrate. Mayonnaise has zero grams carbohydrate. Neither has any protein to speak of. Neither, as well, is a significant source of micronutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, or iron.
What the goal of this product seems to have been is to latch on to every “health” fad going on today. So, it is Non-GMO, cholesterol-free, vegan (there are already vegan “mayos” on the market), dairy-free, soy-free, lactose-free, and gluten-free (Hellman’s Mayonnaise is Gluten Free). And, of course, there are no artificial colors or flavors (the beta-carotene is a naturally occurring colorant)
All this would be fine if they didn’t call it mayo. Because it is not mayo. To call it Just Mayo, to me, seems to be highlighting the mayonnaise connection, not diminishing it. Not only is it mayonnaise, but it is “just” mayonnaise and nothing unnecessary. Notwithstanding some silly conviction about their mayo promoting a ‘juster world,’ which I am sure is part of the name. It is all a lie. It is not just mayonnaise. It is something else entirely. A spread. Frankly, for my tomato sandwiches, I’ll stick to Hellmann’s. If I were still living in the South, of course, I’d be using Blue Plate Mayonnaise, the best jarred mayonnaise you’ll get outside of fancy-pants gourmet versions!
However, for those who have a need for a mayonnaise substitute that is free of any one of the ingredients listed, for allergy reasons or other reasons, people are reporting that Just Mayo is very tasty and a good substitute for real mayonnaise. I doubt very much that the average consumer will be looking to replace their real mayonnaise anytime soon, but Just Mayo did manage, along with its rhetoric, to create an appealing product.