As the dust settled around the news that corporate giant Unilever was suing the start up vegan mayo producer, Hampton Creek, over its “Just Mayo” brand, a clear picture began to emerge of just what people thought of that decision. They pretty much thought it stank, with backlash being both instant and intense.
“It’s been extraordinary how people have responded to this, including the public, commentators, our retail and food service partners.” Hampton Creek CEO Joshua Tetrick told One Green Planet. “It has reminded us why we started this company in the first place. We didn’t start Hampton Creek not to make some noise, and we shouldn’t be surprised if some take issue with that.”
Josh Tetrick just wants world peas, is that too much to ask?
If you haven’t heard, Unilever, the multi-million dollar conglomerate that owns Hellmanns and Best Foods brands among several others is who took issue with that. Unilever filed a lawsuit against independently owned Hampton Creek over whether or not the brand can call their product “mayo.” The suit alleges that Hampton Creek was employing false advertising due to the FDA definition of mayo as a substance that contains eggs. Because Just Mayo’s packaging depicts an egg being cracked by a yellow pea shoot (the ingredient that replaces eggs in the product), Unilever claims that consumers are being misled to believe eggs are contained in the ingredients.
The Just Mayo label clearly states that it is egg-free. It’s also not the only egg-free product on the market to call itself mayo or mayonnaise, which has led most people familiar with the lawsuit to conclude Unilever’s other claims that, “Hampton Creek is seizing market share from Unilever’s Best Foods and Hellmann’s brand of mayonnaise products,” are the real crux of the issue.
Stop that Unilever, you have to share.
Well, if Unilever thought filing a lawsuit was going to stem the hemorrhage of consumers from their less healthy or sustainable brands of the condiment toward its innovative competitor, they seem to have massively miscalculated. A representative for Hampton Creek tells One Green Planet that media monetization experts have determined Hampton Creek received free product placement based advertising to the tune of 3 million dollars per day, each day for a week after the suit was filed due to it’s large media visibility.
That’s 21 million dollars in just the first week, a number generated through research by web analytics expert Anne Ahola Ward of CircleClick and verified by a former IT auditor. Free press wasn’t the only thing that poured in. Both Unilever and Hellman’s Facebook pages were deluged with negative comments, causing both pages to go virtually radio silent as consumers voiced their outrage at what many feel is a clear case of corporate bullying.
“The irony is that a lot of what we’re doing working through this lawsuit is actually building our company.” Tetrick told us. “It’s building our customer base, increasing our sell through rate, helping us attract better talent, and energizing our team. It’s also reinforcing a point of view we have that is very essential to everything we do … you need a new approach if you’re going to solve big problems.”
That isn’t to say that Unilever hasn’t been busy in the aftermath as well. On the contrary, in the wake of the maelstrom, they’ve been hard at work retroactively changing the labels on their websites to say “dressing” instead of “mayonnaise” on some of their products. As it turns out, that whole FDA definition of what can and cannot be called mayonnaise doesn’t just put stipulations on the presence of eggs in the product but also indicates how much vegetable oil the product must be comprised of. Some of Unilever’s own products didn’t fit the definition, so they quietly began changing their labels, oh, and consumer product reviews too, to reflect the proper nomenclature.
Nope, nothing to see here.
Name calling aside, the consumer may be who settles this condiment catfight in the end. Legal analysts predict that the suit will be settled by determining whether or not consumers consider a product mayo if it contains eggs or if they consider a product mayo because it has a particular taste and look when slathered on a sandwich. Regardless of the outcome, Hampton Creek is more motivated than ever to continue what they’ve started, delivering a healthier and more sustainable product.
“This has been a great moment for Hampton Creek.” Tetrick says of the entire ordeal, “We’re surprised and humbled by it. In fact, one of the reasons we’re inspired by this moment is because we think this is potentially an opportunity to have broader changes in the regulatory environment, to make it easier to solve big problems and create food that is more healthy and sustainable.”
As the saying goes, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Or, in the case of Hampton Creek, when life hands you yellow peas, make MAYO!
Lead image source: Thoughts of Happiness