A small company being sued by a major corporation is an intimidating experience for the smaller entity. It’s not cheap to defend against this type of lawsuit and the big enterprises have massive amounts of cash to spend on legal representation. Fortunately for Hampton Creek, consumer goods corporation Unilever dropped the lawsuit, which focused on the upstart company’s product called Just Mayo. It was claimed to falsely lead consumers to think this item actually was mayonnaise, which the Food and Drug Administration requires to have eggs. Just Mayo does not.
The situation is somewhat similar to the battle between margarine and butter. Margarine producers cannot claim their products are butter. Nevertheless, some of them blur the lines in their labeling and advertising. Some use the same imagery for both their butter and margarine products. Some show images of a farm with cows. Unilever even sells a brand of margarine that includes the word butter in its name, and the word butter is the biggest one on the packaging. Just Mayo’s label shows an egg with a plant sprouting in front of the egg, indicating that the egg has been replaced with plant-based substances.
If the case would have proceeded to court, Unilever would have needed to prove that average consumers could not understand that Just Mayo does not contain eggs. That might have been accomplished with interviews and surveys, but it can be very difficult to obtain scientific results this way. Unilever apparently decided that the unfavorable public relations it was getting from consumers wasn’t worth pursuing the lawsuit. People generally aren’t thrilled when one of the biggest corporate ventures in the world goes after a small business owner, claiming unfair competition.
Without having to worry about legal wrangling with giant business operations, Hampton Creek management could concentrate more fully on its goals, which focus on producing plant-based convenience foods to replace animal-based products. It scored a major deal with Compass Group to be the food service supplier’s only provider of salad dressings and baking mixes. That gets Hampton Creek products into cafeterias globally as well as into certain restaurants, effectively introducing millions of people to these products.