The second wave of the Mayo Wars has come, and this time Miracle Whip is nowhere to be found.
The eggy white stuff’s newest adversary is Just Mayo, a popular eggless spread made by San Francisco startup Hampton Creek, which is now in a sticky mess with the FDA over its labeling. According to a recent letter made public by the agency, Hampton Creek’s marketing is misleading for several reasons, including the fact that Just Mayo is not really mayo because it doesn’t contain eggs. And the prominent image of an egg on its packaging just adds insult to injury.
The FDA explains the confusion brought on by this grave misstep:
The name “Just Mayo” and an image of an egg are prominently featured on the labels for these products. The term “mayo” has long been used and understood as shorthand or slang for mayonnaise. The use of the term “mayo” in the product names and the image of an egg may be misleading to consumers because it may lead them to believe that the products are the standardized food, mayonnaise, which must contain eggs.
The gold standard of real mayonnaise, Hellmann’s, has been defending its turf against Hampton Creek for a while. Its parent company, Unilever, sued Hampton Creek last year for misrepresenting its product, later dropping the suit to let the FDA handle it.
Just Mayo is not the first eggless mayonnaise alternative to appeal to vegans and health-conscious consumers, but it is the most brazen. Hampton Creek’s situation raises the issue of how companies that serve up food alternatives–meat substitute producer Beyond Meat, for example, or those grocery store brands that tout seitan as “chicken”–should think twice about how to package their products in a way that is both recognizable and accurate. Brands like Nayonaise and Vegenaise have skirted the FDA’s ire by focusing on the half of “mayonnaise” that is not common slang for the food, and by illustrating their packaging with plant imagery instead of eggs.
If Hampton Creek can’t win its fight against the FDA, it should embrace its differences and rename its product something that gets the point across in an inviting way. Our suggestion, free of charge? “Heyo.”
Update: Hampton Creek reached out to Fast Company with CEO Josh Tetrick’s thoughts on the FDA letter and a recent conversation with the agency:
We had a good call with the FDA yesterday. They get the import of what we’re doing–and why it matters to our food system. This is larger than a conversation about mayo, as innovation, especially when it has a positive impact, is important to them. We’ll sit down with them shortly, and are excited to talk with them about our approach. They get it much more than folks realize.
And we’re solid on keeping our name.