The American Egg Board Likely Behind Hampton Creek's FDA Troubles
The American Egg Board has been on a quest to stop Hampton Creek from succeeding for some time now, according to a series of documents that were sent to The Associated Press (via Hampton Creek, having obtained them from Ryan Noah Shapiro and his attorney, Jeffrey Light). ABC News revealed some of the finer points that make it clear that Hampton Creek was identified as a potential problem in 2013. Despite this, egg industry players were ineffective in stopping Hampton Creek’s success, thus Just Mayo has found its way into major chains such as Whole Foods and 7-Eleven.
We covered the initial boom as Just Mayo took over as the new mayonnaise substitute for all of 7-Eleven’s prepared foods and the recent FDA threat that Just Mayo’s name be changed on the basis of the FDA’s official mayonnaise guidelines that any food calling itself ‘mayonnaise’ must contain eggs, which Just Mayo…a vegan alternative – doesn’t. We speculated that the FDA threat had to be coming from a bigger source, likely the egg and dairy industries because of mayo’s place as the biggest player in the condiment portion of the American diet. We’re talking about a multi-billion dollar market and a popular, affordable alternative that uses a cruelty-free, sustainable protein in the form of peas that’s actually pretty tasty.
The popularity and feasibility of the product is most likely the driving force behind this dispute. After all, there are all sorts of vegan foods on the market that replace other foods that come from animal sources; from milk and cheese to burgers. Alas, the lack of popular demand for these doesn’t really threaten any major industry players. Really though, when was the last time you took a bite out of a veggie burger and said something along the lines of: “I totally can’t tell this is a veggie burger!?” There are plenty of delicious veggie burgers, don’t misunderstand me, but nothing that really threatens to replace ground beef in the average American household. I draw this analogy because just last week I privy to Hampton Creek’s success. I had dinner at a friend’s house and they had four jars of Just Mayo in their refrigerator. Given last week’s news I couldn’t help but bring up the recent controversy, to which they responded: “Just Mayo is vegan!?” Neither husband nor wife could believe that the pea-based substitute could possibly be anything other than typical mayonnaise – something they purchased at Walmart of all places.
Without further speculation, here are the most important quotes from the ABC News story – I’ve taken the liberty of highlighting the names and the excerpts that I believe to be most important:
In late 2013, a representative for the PR firm Edelman alerted board executives that Hampton Creek had “just engaged with us directly on Twitter” to challenge it to a bakeoff. The representative advised the board to keep close tabs on reactions to the post — but not to respond.
That was in line with previous advice from an Edelman executive, who compared the situation to a political campaign, where real eggs are the incumbent or “800 lb. gorilla” and Hampton Creek is the insurgent. He said engaging would help legitimize Hampton Creek.
In an emailed statement Tuesday, American Egg Board CEO Joanne Ivy noted interest in egg replacers has grown.
“In response, we bolstered efforts to increase the demand for eggs and egg products through research, education and promotional activities,” Ivy said.
She said such activities are “common within the consumer products industry.”
The attempt to stop the sale of Just Mayo at Whole Foods raises regulatory questions, however.
The American Egg Board had revenue of $23.5 million last year and is supposed to promote the $5.5 billion egg category. It is one of several national programs that promote commodities like pork and beef with funding from producers. The programs are overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which makes them quasi-governmental bodies.
According to the documents, Ivy emailed consultant Anthony Zolezzi on Dec. 3, 2013 saying she would “like to accept your offer to make that phone call to keep Just Mayo off Whole Foods shelves.”
The call by Zolezzi apparently didn’t work, since Whole Foods sells Just Mayo.
Zolezzi said this week he made the offer because he felt Just Mayo’s packaging was misleading. He also thinks eggs are an efficient source of protein and doesn’t agree with eliminating them in favor of plant-based alternatives.
The documents also show Hellmann’s mayonnaise maker Unilever reached out to the egg board for support in its lawsuit accusing Hampton Creek of false advertising last year.
Ivy advised Unilever to ensure the FDA was aware that Just Mayo does not have eggs, as required by the regulatory standard for mayonnaise.
Unilever…ended up dropping the suit. But this month, the Food and Drug Administration sent a warning letter to Hampton Creek saying Just Mayo is misbranded because it does not contain eggs.
FDA spokeswoman Jennifer Dooren said the letter was a follow-up to a complaint the agency received, but could not disclose who made it.
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