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Vegan 'mayo' can't be called mayo if it doesn't have eggs, FDA says

Rebecca Bracken is a news and views writer.

FDA demands Just Mayo change its name, but what's really behind the move?

The FDA has sent a letter to San Francisco-based food company Hampton Creek Foods, telling the company it has to change the name of its Just Mayo vegan mayonnaise because it can't technically be called "mayo" unless it contains eggs.

The letter from the FDA was published this week.

"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, which must contain eggs as described under 21 CFR 169.140(c)," the letter from William Correll Jr., director of the FDA Office of Compliance, read.

Considering all the other misleading food labels and names out there, it seems odd the FDA would crack down on vegan mayonnaise.

More: New FDA sugar-labeling proposal could change the way your food is made

If we can call Velveeta "cheese," and Bacon Bits gets to keep its name despite not having any, you know, actual bacon, then why would the FDA get its panties all in a twist about mayonnaise?

Follow the money.

In 2014, food manufacturing giant Unilever sued Just Mayo because of its direct competition with its mayonnaise brands Best Foods and Hellmann's. Unilever's grievance? That Just Mayo was engaging in false advertising because its "mayo" doesn't actually have eggs.

"Mayo is defined in the dictionary and in common usage as 'mayonnaise,'" the Unilever suit reads. "Under federal regulations, common dictionary definitions and as consumers understand it, 'mayonnaise' or 'mayo' is a product that contains eggs."

The civil suit was later dropped. Apparently Unilever had a different strategy in mind to get Just Mayo off the shelves.

As for Hampton Creek, which sells Just Mayo in Target, Whole Foods and Safeway stores, its CEO, Josh Tetrick, says the company is open to working out a solution, but, "We don't plan on changing the name."

More: Understanding nutrition facts on food labels

When asked if he thought Unilever was throwing its weight around to force the FDA into intervening, Tetrick's response was a simple "I'm sure."

Hampton Creek chief marketing officer Doug Piwinski told SheKnows this morning that Tetrick had a "good" call with the FDA yesterday, explaining their mission to use innovative technology to provide healthy, sustainable foods to their customers.

"They get the importance of what we're doing and why it matters to our food system," Piwinski told SheKnows. "This is larger than a conversation about mayo, as innovation — especially when it has a positive impact — is important to them."

Regardless of whether you're a mayo purist or not, this is a good example of how gigantic food manufacturers like Unilever can so easily work against the consumers' interest in having better, healthier options. Vegan mayonnaise isn't meant to completely demolish the mayo market. It's too delicious! Nothing will ever beat the taste of creamy mayo slathered on a sandwich or tossed with tender greens. But for those consumers looking for a healthier option, Just Mayo fits the bill nicely. Unilever wants to take that choice away from consumers or force Hampton Creek to relabel its vegan mayonnaise until customers will have no idea what it is or what it's used for.

More: Food label lingo: What you need to know

More food choices on the shelves mean we have more control of the food on our tables. Let's hope more companies like Hampton Creek have the stomach to stand up against the status quo. In the meantime, does anyone else have a craving for a creamy pasta salad right now?

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