We’re not just arguing over the definition of mayonnaise anymore.
Hampton Creek, the startup that makes an eggless “Just Mayo” product, published select emails sent by the American Egg Board, an egg lobby backed by the USDA, that show how the egg industry was threatened by the company’s eggless product.
In the emails, released by Hampton Creek, the USDA’s American Egg Board called the startup a “major threat” and hired a crisis PR firm to deal with it. American Egg Board executives also made (likely joking) remarks about putting a hit out on the startup’s CEO.
The emails were obtained via the Freedom of Information Act by Ryan Noah Shapiro, a FOIA expert at MIT, who knows Hampton Creek co-founder Josh Balk and provided the documents to the company. Hampton Creek only published a partial list of emails, annotated by the company.
The emails selected by the company allegedly show that the American Egg Board and USDA were working to challenge the startup’s Just Mayo product and suggested forwarding the information to the FDA in January 2014. A follow-up email in November 2014 alleged that the FDA was already likely looking into the issue, but that Unilever (who makes Hellman’s mayonnaise and sued the startup) should push the FDA to look into it.
Hampton Creek did come under fire in August 2015 after the US Food and Drug Administration warned that its products did not meet the legal definition of mayonnaise and could not claim they are low in cholesterol because of its fat content. The FDA said a complaint had been filed in April 2014, but did not disclose who it was from.
The released emails appeared to show that the American Egg Board tried to stop the sale of the startup’s products at Whole Foods. “I would like to accept your offer to make that phone call to keep Just Mayo off Whole Foods shelves,” Joanne Ivy, the board’s president, allegedly wrote to entrepreneur Anthony Zolezzi in December 2013. Hampton Creek’s mayo products are still sold in Whole Foods regardless of whatever calls may have been placed.
Executives from the American Egg Board and Hidden Villa Ranch also joked about putting a hit out on Josh Tetrick, Hampton Creek’s CEO, on two occasions (annotations by the company).
Hampton Creek’s release of the emails follow a rough month for the mayo startup. Before the FDA warning letter, Business Insider published a story early in August that detailed former employees’ accusations of unfounded science and slippery ethics at the vegan mayo company. A report on August 30 from Tech Crunch also detailed the lingering questions it has for the startup. Hampton Creek, the American Egg Board, the USDA, the FDA, Hidden Villa, and Anthony Zolezzi did not return request for comment.
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