AP Food Industry Writer
Sunday, December 20, 2015
New York — Just Mayo says it will get to keep its name, a decision that caps a rollercoaster year for the vegan spread that has rattled the egg industry.
After months of discussions, Just Mayo’s maker Hampton Creek says it worked out an agreement with the Food and Drug Administration that lets the eggless spread keep its name, as long as a few changes are made to its label. The resolution comes after the FDA sent a warning letter to Hampton Creek in August saying Just Mayo was misbranded because mayonnaise is defined as having eggs.
A representative for the FDA was not able to immediately confirm that it had resolved the matter with Hampton Creek.
As part of the deal, Hampton Creek said Just Mayo’s label will make it clear that the product does not contain eggs. The changes include making the words “egg-free” larger and adding “Spread & Dressing.” An image of an egg with a pea shoot inside will also be smaller.
The agreement would bring closure to one of the challenges in the past year faced by Hampton Creek, a San Francisco startup that has made headlines with its $120 million in funding and a feel-good mission of improving the food system with options that are healthier, more affordable and better for the environment. The attention has been enough that The New York Times declared “mayo” to be one of the “top new food words” of 2015 last week.
The spotlight has also made Hampton Creek a target.
Last year, Hellmann’s mayonnaise maker Unilever filed a lawsuit saying Just Mayo’s name was misleading. After facing backlash from Hampton Creek supporters, Unilever dropped the suit.
Behind the scenes, Hampton Creek was also raising concerns at the American Egg Board, which promotes the egg industry and is responsible for the Incredible, Edible Egg slogan. The group’s CEO, Joanne Ivy, tried to stop the sale of Just Mayo at Whole Foods, according to emails obtained through a public records request by Ryan Shapiro and Jeffrey Light, Freedom of Information Act experts.
The attempt to stop Just Mayo’s sale raises regulatory issues because the board is overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, making it a quasi-governmental body. After The Associated Press reported on the emails Sept. 2, Ivy retired earlier than planned and the USDA began an investigation into the egg board.
The USDA has said the investigation is ongoing.
Josh Tetrick, CEO of Hampton Creek, said the company was able to find common ground with the FDA over its label after explaining its goal of trying to improve the food system.
Hampton Creek had enlisted the help of Stuart Pape, a former attorney with the FDA based in Washington, D.C., who now advises clients on labeling and regulatory issues at the law firm Polsinelli.
The letter from the FDA in August had also noted that the Just Mayo contains ingredients that are not permitted by the standard of identity for mayonnaise, including modified food starch and pea protein. It also said that the product is not qualified to make implied health claims that it can reduce the risk of heart disease, given the amount of fat they contain.