Hellman's Tried to Beat Vegan Mayo and Lost—So It's Making Its Own
Unilever, the multinational food corporation that owns the mayonnaise brands Hellman’s and Best Foods, has been cast as the villain in the ongoing mayo wars. In October 2014, the company sued comparatively tiny San Francisco start-up Hampton Creek Foods for mislabeling its Just Mayo product as mayonnaise. The suit argued that Just Mayo, which is made with pea protein in lieu of eggs, could not be marketed as mayonnaise because the Food and Drug Administration defines the spread as an emulsion of oil and egg or egg yolk.
Just weeks later, Unilever dropped the suit. Then the FDA picked up the cause last year, making essentially the same argument against Just Mayo. The company reached a compromise with the feds at the end of the year, agreeing to emphasize on the label that Just Mayo is “egg-free.”
On Tuesday, a little over a year since the first salvo, Unilever announced that it will launch a product later this month: Carefully Crafted Dressing & Sandwich Spread, a carefully named egg-less competitor to Just Mayo.
“Our fans have been asking us for organic and egg-less options with the creamy taste of Hellmann's for years,” Russel Lilly, Hellmann’s marketing director, said in a press release. “We listened and responded by giving them choices that are priced competitively and available nationwide.” The egg-free product will launch alongside an organic mayonnaise line, which will be made with cage-free eggs.
Carefully Crafted uses modified food starch made from corn and potatoes to bind the oil—soybean oil, rather than the canola oil used by Hampton Creek—into an emulsion. All the ingredients, including the soybean oil, are said to be non-GMO, although that claim is not verified by a third-party organization. In addition to the pea protein that’s used as an emulsifier in Just Mayo, Hampton Creek includes modified food starch in its product as well.
Hellmann's foray into egg-less mayonnaise is a vindication not only for Just Mayo but for the ancient Catalonians who, as far back as 77 A.D., were making a rich sauce for fish and vegetables by working olive oil into garlic paste with a mortar and pestle—a vegan preparation appropriated by the egg-yolk-loving French in the 1750s and Hellmann's in 1912.
When Unilever dropped its lawsuit, Mike Faherty, vice president for food at Unilever North America, said in a statement, “We share a vision with Hampton Creek of a more sustainable world.” He added, “It is for these reasons that we believe Hampton Creek will take the appropriate steps in labeling its products going forward.”
The exact nature of that shared vision looks a bit different in 2016, with Unilever following Hampton Creek into the egg-less mayo market rather than trying to use the courts to trip up its upstart competitor.