Back in September we blogged about the Warning Letter that FDA issued to Hampton Creek Foods, Inc. for its vegan food dressing and sandwich spread, “Just Mayo” and a similar product, “Just Mayo Sriracha.” In addition to several other interesting labeling violations, FDA noted that “Just Mayo” was not mayonnaise as defined by federal regulations because it does not contain eggs, the essential ingredient in traditional mayonnaise. Citing other ingredients not found in traditional mayonnaise and a label containing an image of an egg with a bean sprout growing inside, the Agency warned that “Just Mayo” was misleading to consumers and misbranded in violation of federal law. Among other things, the Agency argued that the word “Just” suggested that the products contained “nothing but” mayonnaise as it is traditionally defined. It gave Hampton Creek time to voluntarily come into compliance with the regulations before the Agency would take further action.
After reportedly negotiating with FDA, Hampton Creek has announced that it is implementing significant changes on the label for these flagship products (see, for example, this NY Times story). “Just Mayo” and “Just Mayo Sriracha” will keep their names and their ingredients, but the new labels will have a smaller image of the egg along with larger text for the words “egg-free.” In addition, the word “Just” will be defined on the labels as an adjective with the meaning, “guided by reason, justice, and fairness.” The definition comports with the company’s focus on supporting a food system aligned with values that promote good food for all people. In other words, the new labels shrink the emphasis on eggs and increase the context of the company’s values.
These changes and others satisfied the FDA, which issued a Close-Out Letter to Hampton Creek in mid-December, ending the enforcement risks to stemming from the Agency’s earlier warnings. In our experience, this type of agreement – in which a specific definition is added in response to FDA’s concerns about the potential misleading nature of a label to consumers – is not typical and should be scored as a “win” for food companies, especially smaller, innovative brands. It can also be considered another chapter in wider efforts by regulated industry as a whole to push back on the limits of FDA’s (and FTC’s) long-standing interpretations regarding what consumers view as “false or misleading,” a story that will undoubtedly continue to evolve in 2016 and beyond.