Why Does the FDA Care About Just Mayo's Name?

Bottles of "Just Mayo" before a forced FDA name change
Is this mayonnaise or not? The FDA says it's not and wants a name change.

Patrick Hurley / Flickr / CC by 2.0

Last year Unilever, makers of Hellman's Mayonnaise, sued Hampton Creek for false advertising and fraud. Hampton Creek's eggless mayonnaise is called Just Mayo, and according to the Food and Drug Administration’s definition of mayonnaise, it must contain egg yolks. Unilever dropped the lawsuit after getting a lot of press that only helped the little food company's products fly off the shelves. Hampton Creek may have thought the issue ended when the lawsuit was dropped, but now the FDA is warning Hampton Creek it can't use the word "mayo" for its product.

The FDA sent a warning letter to Hampton Creek on Aug. 12, 2014, telling the company its product "does not conform to the standard for mayonnaise." The government agency wants Hampton Creek to stop marketing Just Mayo as mayonnaise and change the product's name.

Hampton Creek CEO Josh Tetrick is fighting back, according to Inc. He believes a name change is unnecessary because, “it says egg-free right there on the label, and anyone can look at the ingredients on the back and see what the ingredients are.”

Changing the name could be costly. Aside from the expense of changing packaging and marketing materials, the confusion of a name change for the growing company could cost customers. Considering the impressive growth the company has had in the few short years it has been in business, a setback in revenue could stunt its growth. In fact, 7-Eleven just began using Just Mayo for all its in-house mayonnaise needs.

Another thing that could hurt is a seizure or injunction against Hampton Creek, both of which the FDA says is possible if the company doesn't comply. Currently, there's no indication that it will come to that.

This all seems silly, doesn't it? There's no fraud going on here, no deception. The eggless information is right on the packaging. Plus, the FDA's definition of mayonnaise is for "mayonnaise" not for "mayo." Other eggless mayonnaise-like products use the word mayo in their names, and I can't find any evidence those companies are being told to stop. Earth Balance makes an eggless MindfulMayo and Walden Farms makes an eggless and calorie-less Amazin' Mayo.

Have they received similar letters from the FDA? Or, is Hampton Creek being picked on specifically because it's cutting in on the profits of big food manufacturers that have put a bug in the FDA's ear. I have no evidence, but I'm suspicious.

Stephanie Quilao, a food app publisher and advocate for socially conscious eating, said on Facebook that she loves that Tetrick is basically saying, "No, we ain't changing nothing. Bring it. Now buying Just Mayo has become a sign of rebellion against the machine," said Quilao, "Guess whose sales are going to climb?! I LOVE it!!"

Hampton Creek's sales went up last time it was challenged on the word "mayo." With any luck, this latest challenge by the FDA will make more people take notice of the mayo that tastes so good even my egg-loving, meat-eating kids give it a thumbs up.

Update 8/27: Hampton Creek's CEO Josh Tetrick made the following statement, "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 the FDA shortly, and are excited to talk with them about our approach. They understand our mission more than folks realize, and want to find a way forward.

We're solid on keeping our name."

Update September 2020: Unilever dropped the lawsuit without giving a reason. A Change.org petition supporting Just Mayo raised over 112,000 signatures. In December 2015 the FDA stopped any actions against the company for the lack of eggs in their mayo.