You’ve probably seen the headlines. Hampton Creek, a small San-Francisco based food company, is being sued for their plant-based, eggless product, Just Mayo. The food giant, Unilever (maker of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise), is claiming that using the word “mayo” when the product does not contain eggs is false advertising. The Food and Drug Administration does have a “standard of identity” for mayonnaise which includes egg yolk in the description, however, there is no such definition for the word “mayo”. In fact, Hampton Creek chose the word mayo for their product instead of mayonnaise for exactly this reason.
You would think that a company like Unilever, in making such bold claims, would have a perfect portfolio of products that could never be deemed misleading. Au contraire.
One of Unilever’s most popular and well-known brands is Lipton – makers of a wide variety of tea, and iced tea products. One of which, Lipton Citrus Green Tea, belongs in the food crime hall of shame.
We’ve all heard about the potential benefits of green tea: a boost in metabolism, improved blood flow, lower cholesterol and blood pressure. The list goes on. And there is no question that Lipton intended to take advantage of these well-known health benefits when marketing this product. However, when you look at the ingredients, it is shocking that Lipton can even call this product green tea.
Not only are the primary ingredients water and high fructose corn syrup, as opposed to green tea, but this product also contains acesulfame potassium, an artificial sweetener. Nowhere on the front of the package do you see anything about added sugar or sweeteners, but this product is full of them. Just one 16.9 ounce bottle contains eight teaspoons of sugar. Whatever benefits green tea holds, they are most certainly trumped by the very negative health benefits of all of that sugar. We can’t even be certain how much green tea is in this product considering it is the 6th ingredient on the label.
In contrast, Hampton Creek has been completely up front about what it’s product is: A plant-based, eggless mayo. And it says so, right on the front of the bottle. You don’t have to dig through the ingredient list to figure it out.
So far, the joke has really been an Unilever, as the case has given Hampton Creek national exposure. Dozens of media outlets have been covering the story. Even David Letterman poked fun at the lawsuit.
As public health lawyer Michele Simon put in her blog post:
It’s the equivalent of the biggest bully in the school yard beating up the nerdiest kid.
Hampton Creek figured out a way to make a healthier mayo-like product, that’s still delicious. Rather than use their extensive resources to compete, Unilever is choosing to attack the competition with a frivolous lawsuit.
I’m pretty confident Hampton Creek will come out on top with this one, but just in case, celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern has put out a petition on Change.org asking Unilever to drop the lawsuit.