NEW YORK (AP) — The maker of Hellmann's mayonnaise has some egg on its face.
After suing a small California company for calling its product "Just Mayo" because the product is made without eggs, it was discovered that Unilever had tweaked its website to make clear that some of its own products are "mayonnaise dressing," rather than mayonnaise.
Unilever's suit accuses Hampton Creek of false advertising, saying that the word "mayo" implies that the product is mayonnaise, even though it doesn't meet the definition for the product. It says Just Mayo is "stealing market share from Hellmann's.
Michele Simon, a public health lawyer, said she was discussing the case with the founder of Just Mayo this past Friday when they noticed the changes being made on Unilever's websites for Hellmann's and Best Foods.
"They were changing right before our eyes," Simon said.
She said customer reviews were also changed to add the word "dressing" after mayonnaise. The site for Best Foods had also been changed so that "Canola Cholesterol Free Mayonnaise" is now "Canola Cholesterol Free Mayonnaise Dressing."
A representative for Unilever, based in the Netherlands, did not immediately return a call for comment.
Josh Tetrick, founder of the company that makes Just Mayo, said in a phone interview he has been in talks with the Food and Drug Administration over the situation. He said he's confident Just Mayo won't have to change its name since the FDA's standard of identity is for "mayonnaise" and not "mayo." That's why Hampton Creek called its product "Just Mayo" to begin with, he said.
The label for Just Mayo also states the product is egg-free, Tetrick said.
Tetrick founded Hampton Creek California, to make foods that are healthier and better for the environment. The company also sells a cookie that is made without eggs, and is developing other products, such as pasta.
He said Unilever's lawsuit has resulted in enormous publicity for the company, which is based in San Francisco.
"What a thrill the last 10 days have been," he said. "I don't know how many millions of people now know the name Hampton Creek and know what Just Mayo is."