Egg on their Faces

Just MayoThey’re getting nervous. With the big increase in the popularity of plant-based products, those companies that make animal-derived ones are getting nervous enough to try to push back. The latest case is the egg industry push-back against Hampton Creek’s vegan mayonnaise, Just Mayo, a product that looks like mayonnaise, tastes like mayonnaise and yet contains no eggs.

Last month after being contacted by the egg industry, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ruled that vegan food startup, Hampton Creek, must change the name of its Just Mayo spread (which does not contain eggs) because, the FDA said, products labeled “mayo” or “mayonnaise” must contain eggs. Hampton Creek CEO, Josh Tetrick, reacted strongly saying “I think it is stupid we can’t call our product mayonnaise. We’re definitely not changing the name. We’re not going to be bullied. We’re not going to cower.”

In the history of ill-conceived public relations campaigns, the egg industry’s war on Just Mayo deserves at least a mention. The egg industry paid bloggers to attack Hampton Creek, and they even went so far as to demand that Whole Foods kick them out of their stores. Then there were emails from the Egg Board, technically a government agency administered by the USDA, saying that the FDA should go after them. Some even joked about putting a hit on Tetrick. The emails, later made public, led to a wave of stories calling the campaign a government conspiracy to bring down Just Mayo. Whole Foods quickly said that they were keeping the product. It’s hard to imagine better publicity for the product that the Egg Board was trying to fight. The Egg Board could also be in violation of the federal law that created it, which says, “No funds collected by the Egg Board under the order shall in any manner be used for the purpose of influencing governmental policy or action.”

Big Egg, if we can call them that, worries that they will lose sales.  Mayonnaise is the most popular condiment in the country with about $2 billion in sales, compared to only $800 million for ketchup. Mayonnaise, in all its eggy glory, is used in everything from sandwiches to desserts. Fast Company magazine named Hampton Creek one of the world’s top ten most innovative food companies of 2015.  It has financial backing from, among others, Washington’s very own Bill Gates.