Shulman Hodges & Bastian LLP

Is 'Just Mayo' mayo? No, says Unilever's false advertising suit

Part of protecting your business brand is ensuring that your products and services are accurately perceived by consumers. Sometimes, however, it may be possible for a competitor to skew the public's perception of your brand through false advertising, which is good cause for a lawsuit.

A California food company backed by Asia's wealthiest individual Li Ka-shing and Microsoft founder Bill Gates is being sued by Unilever, which makes Hellmann's mayonnaise. Unilever claims that Hampton Creek, a food company based in San Francisco, has falsely advertised the product "Just Mayo," which contains no eggs. For mayonnaise to be mayonnaise, says Unilever, eggs have to be included, and the label "Just Mayo" is misleading consumers.  

Additionally, Unilever's complaint says that Hampton Creek's egg-free product is "stealing market share from Hellmann's."

Mayonnaise is big business in the U.S. -- with an annual worth estimated at $2 billion -- and Unilever has the largest share of that market. The company reportedly hired a marketing expert to look into Hampton Creek's claim that consumers are not misled by the "Just Mayo" label, and according to an online survey, more than 50 percent of 822 respondents said they thought the product was really mayonnaise.

In its complaint in federal court, Unilever also noted that mayonnaise is defined by dictionaries and federal regulators as containing eggs. It remains to be seen how Hampton Creek will respond to Unilever's claims.

Whether you're dealing with an issue of false advertising, patent infringement or trademark infringement, it is important to speak with a business law attorney about developing a legal strategy for protecting your interests now and in the future. 

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