It tastes like mayo, it smells like mayo, and it looks like mayo. Now the question of what Just Mayo can be called has been put to rest: It is, and will continue to be, Just Mayo. Got that?
The name of Hampton Creek's popular condiment, which is sold in Safeway, Costco, Whole Foods, The Dollar Tree, and other major supermarkets worldwide, had been a point of contention since August, when the FDA pointed out in a warning letter that by legal definition "mayonnaise" or "mayo" is supposed to contain eggs. (Yes, the FDA has an official definition for mayonnaise, plus other types of food, as a means of preventing false advertising.) But Hampton Creek, a venture-backed San Francisco startup, substitutes plant protein–based compounds for eggs in its food products, which also include cookies and cookie dough.
After months of discussion, the dispute was resolved Wednesday night when the FDA told Hampton Creek it could keep the "Just Mayo" moniker, CEO Josh Tetrick told BuzzFeed News. FDA spokesperson Lauren Kotwicki confirmed the news and told BuzzFeed News by email, "The company committed to making labeling changes to ensure its products are labeled in a manner that is truthful and not misleading."
The compromise between Hampton Creek and the FDA is a small yet meaningful truce in a world in which venture-backed startups seeking to overhaul entrenched industries clash with regulators.
Under the FDA's guidance, Hampton Creek has had to change its labeling to clarify what, exactly, its sandwich spread is (and is not). It added a definition of the "just" in "Just Mayo" ("guided by reason, justice, and fairness"), a summary of the company's philosophy, the words "SPREAD & DRESSING," and a box around the nutrition facts to better highlight the ingredients. It also shrunk the egg logo and increased the size of the words "egg-free" and "soy-free."
Of the FDA, Tetrick told BuzzFeed News, "They really wanted to be part of creating a better food system and it's important they were part of that. It's important we heard what they had to say."
Also in August, the FDA criticized Hampton Creek's claim that Just Mayo is cholesterol-free and its marketing message “Your Heart Matters. When your heart is healthy, well, we’re happy. You’ll never find cholesterol in our products.” Those claims together, the FDA said at the time, implied that the product can reduce the risk of heart disease. But Just Mayo in fact contained an amount of fat that would require disclosure, and that label was missing, the FDA said.
For now, Hampton Creek will remove the "cholesterol-free" wording from Just Mayo's label with the intention of putting it back on later, Tetrick said. The creamy condiment was, and remains, cholesterol-free.
The mayonnaise identity crisis came to the FDA's attention following a lawsuit last year filed by Unilever, the food conglomerate that owns mayonnaise brand Hellmann’s. (The lawsuit was later dropped.) Hampton Creek, which was founded in 2011 and has raised $120 million, has also faced criticism from anonymous ex-employees who told Business Insider that the products were less than scientifically sound, and concerted attacks by the government-backed American Egg Board, as reported by The Guardian.
Stephanie Lee is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
Contact Stephanie M. Lee at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.