Re-Deviled Eggs

Food Conspiracy: Big Egg vs Little Fake Mayo

The latest food conspiracy pits the vast empire of Big Egg against a little fake mayo upstart called “Just Mayo.” And here is where the trouble starts — with a brand name that quietly screams authenticity. That’s because, according to legal definitions of what’s real mayonnaise, “Just Mayo” is just not mayonnaise.

The result is that the food industry establishment — FDA, people who make mayonnaise, and people who make its ingredients — got upset with “Just Mayo” for breaking the rules. And people who are suspicious of Big Food smelled a conspiracy.

By definition, mayonnaise is made with eggs, vegetable oil, and vinegar or lemon juice. Without eggs, you can be a salad dressing, but you can’t call yourself mayonnaise. If you have any doubts, just ask FDA or the folks who make Miracle Whip. Back in 1933 when Miracle Whip was born, the same definition of what is and isn’t mayonnaise meant that Miracle Whip had to be labeled as a salad dressing. Even though it has eggs, it doesn’t have enough vegetable oil to meet the standard.

So when folks at Hampton Creek named their eggless alternative to mayonnaise “Just Mayo,” they were asking for trouble. The folks who make Hellman’s real mayonnaise sued them last year for false advertising. Then in August FDA notified them that they were violating standards of identity for mayonnaise.

Ever vigilant, folks who are suspicious of the food industry rushed to the defense of this little fake mayo brand. Through freedom of information requests, they found that the American Egg Board — that’s right, Big Egg — had internal discussions about their concerns regarding this misbranding.

Michele Simon, who seems sure that nothing good ever comes from the food industry, said, “The egg board is supposed to promote eggs. It’s not supposed to take down competitors.” Nevermind that the board never took any action. They only discussed the implications of an egg-free product using a name that means it has eggs in it.

The folks who sell “Just Mayo” believe their cause is just. CEO Josh Tetrick says he wants to:

Rip away our preconceptions and our habits and how we think about things, and start a food system that actually works for everyone.

Calling something “just mayo vegan spread alternative” doesn’t have any impact.

Right. If he let on that it’s just not mayo, he wouldn’t sell as much.

The reason that fake mayo can’t call itself “Just Mayo” is the same reason that Cheez Whiz can’t call itself real cheese. Neither one of them is the real thing.

Click here to read more from NPR and here to read more from the Washington Post.

Re-Deviled Eggs, photograph © Meal Makeover Moms / flickr

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September 6, 2015

2 Responses to “Food Conspiracy: Big Egg vs Little Fake Mayo”

  1. September 13, 2015 at 11:51 am, Valerie said:

    Why don’t they just point out that the label doesn’t say “mayonnaise”, but “mayo”? Is there a legal definition for “mayo”?

    Just to be clear, I think the label is misleading. As a consumer, I would be fooled, because I would assume that mayo means mayonnaise, and mayonnaise contains eggs. I think they should be upfront and not pretend to be mayonnaise. That being said, the label does not say mayonnaise…

    • September 13, 2015 at 1:55 pm, Ted said:

      Thanks for speaking up, Valerie. I doubt that would fly, but they can certainly try. Just about any person would conclude, as you did, that “mayo” means mayonnaise. That’s the definition you’ll find in the dictionary. Legal standards for statements of identity are intended to prevent just this kind of deception.