Hampton Creek’s mayonnaise alternative called “Just Mayo” will potentially have to change its name and labeling after the Food and Drug Administration said the company made untrue claims, including that it was “cholesterol free” when in fact it has too much fat in it to make it healthy.
Additionally, it says the name “Just Mayo” is deceptive because the product does not include eggs, a core ingredient for the well-known spread.
“The use of the term ‘mayo’ in the product names and the image of an egg may be misleading to consumers because it may lead them to believe that the products are the standardized food, mayonnaise,” the FDA said, in a warning letter sent to Hampton Creek.
The letter, which was first reported on by Bloomberg, gives Hampton Creek 15 days to respond to the charges. If the violations are not addressed, then it could result in regulatory action, including seizure and injunction, the FDA said.
The food tech startup, founded by CEO Josh Tetrick, raised $90 million in a third round of capital back in December and sells its products in mainstream locations, such as Whole Foods, Walmart, Target and Costco. When reached on his cellphone, Tetrick said he has already talked to the FDA today and that they plan to draft a letter back soon.
“There’s significant gray area here. It’s not black and white,” he said. “It’s the one reason why we’ve always felt good about the name and never had any doubt about the name. We aren’t changing the name because we feel good about it.”
On the issue of calling the product cholesterol free, the FDA wrote: “While there are authorized health claims about cholesterol and the reduced risk of heart disease, these products do not qualify to make these health claims, in part, due to the amount of fat that they contain.”
In response, Tetrick said cholesterol doesn’t have to do with fat, but declined to comment further on that topic.
Investors in the San Francisco-based company include such high-profile executives as Bill Gates, Vinod Khosla, Marc Benioff, founder and CEO of Salesforce and Eduardo Saverin, co-founder of Facebook. Since the start, the company’s mission was to make good-tasting and sustainable food alternatives during a time when the unhealthy choice is often more attractive because of cost and convenience.
This is not the first time the company has gotten into hot water over its branding.
Late last year, Unilever, the third-largest consumer packaged goods company behind Procter & Gamble and Nestle, sued Hampton Creek for calling its main product “mayo,” when it didn’t contain eggs. Bloomberg reports that the Uniever subsequently withdrew its lawsuit so the company could work directly with regulators on the description of its products.
Additionally, a story in BusinessInsider, which spoke to a half-dozen former Hampton Creek employees, also raised questions about its labeling techniques, alleging that the company ignored research and stretched the truth in making claims in order to meet deadlines. Tetrick responded to the many allegations in his own post, by including emails and charts to prove otherwise.
Tetrick downplayed the significance of the letter, saying “It’s the FDA’s job [to raise questions about any discrepancies],” he said. “They do this everyday and this is what they should do.”