Hey, remember last week, when we told you guys Hellmann's parent company Unilever suing San Francisco-based startup Hampton Creek for calling its product "Just Mayo" despite the fact that it had no eggs in it? Yeah, turns out Hellmann's was doing the exact same thing, only they were doing it a lot more.
In the wake of the absurd-if-technically-sort-of-correct-if-you-squint (in a "completely against the spirit of the law" kind of way) lawsuit, Hampton Creek founder Josh Tetrick had been combing through their website looking to see if there was any chance Unilever and Hellmann's had, by chance, done anything that might make them look ridiculous and hypocritical.
Unilever* did not disappoint: Tetrick found a bunch of references on Hellmann's website referring to eggless products as "mayonnaise" prior to November 4 (keep this date in mind, it's going to become important in a few paragraphs). Then on Friday, November 14, right as Tetrick and his team were looking at the website and figuring out what to do about it, the page for Hellmann's Creamy Balsamic Mayonnaise Dressing, as well as several others relating to the eggless products as "mayo" or "mayonnaise," apparently just up and disappeared and/or were heavily edited.** In particular, a product named "Cholesterol-Free Mayonnaise" had "Dressing" addended to its name. However, if you look for it on Amazon, it's actually still labeled "Cholesterol-Free Mayonnaise" — no one has thought to change it even now.
It goes further than that, too: Unilever also screwed with customer testimonials on Hellmann's site, adding "dressing" to some customer reviews that contained the words "mayo" or "mayonnaise" for an eggless product and scrubbing others entirely (these reviews had been posted for quite a while prior to these edits). Lest you think we're making this up, Hampton Creek helpfully provided screenshots:
Here's Unilever's explanation, via GrubStreet:
Hellmann's hasn't offered much of an explanation, but Unilever executives said that Hampton Creek has known about misleading labels "for months and done nothing," adding "the minute we found out there was something misleading on our pages, we took action."
There's just one teeny-tiny problem with that explanation. Remember when I mentioned to keep November 4 in mind? The reason that date is important is because on November 4, Tetrick and Hampton Creek attempted to notify Hellmann's and Unilever of the fact that several of their own eggless products were referred to as "mayonnaise." Perhaps unsurprisingly, Unilever didn't respond. The changes to the website, however, weren't made until November 14 — after the story had already started gaining media attention.
"If 'immediately' means 'ten days later, after global media attention,' then he's telling the truth," Tetrick says of the above quote.
Let's try that quote without the PR spin, shall we?
Hellmann's explanation for this rampant fuckery boiled down to "aw crap, you noticed?!" Unilever executives then tried to make use of the well-known Kindergarten legal doctrine of "he started it," citing precedent in the case of Jimmy Wilkins Knee v. Billy McCartney's Kidney. They additionally made use of the "we didn't know about it when we filed the lawsuit and also we have a large carnivorous team of lawyers" legal gambit. "Also, we're officially changing the definition of 'this minute' to 'ten days from now.' Don't ask questions, these aren't the droids you're looking for," one executive added.
This was greeted by the general public with what one onlooker described as "the world's biggest simulated fart noise."
There. Much better.
Ohhh, Unilever. You guys forgot this is the internet, didn't you? For better or worse, nothing is ever permanently gone, and if you try something like this, people will notice.
There's another fun fact that's been lost in all this: this lawsuit comes in conjunction with Unilever's spinning off of a company called Alleggra Foods from Hellmann's. The openly-stated purpose of Alleggra? To create eggless mayonnaise (and other food) replacement products. Hmm.
I genuinely look forward to hearing an attempt at a defense of Unilever's lawsuit now. Even if you think Just Mayo should be made to stop using the word "mayo" in their product name, it's impossible to justify any of the demands Unilever is asking for in their suit. Further, anyone who still thinks Unilever brought this suit on behalf of customers rather than their own market share has to be considered a bit of a sap.
Now either both groups have to go back to their respective corners and make sure their names are up to "technically correct, the best kind of correct" scratch with no side gleaning mayo reparations from the other, or Unilever has to give up their absurd quest and go slink back to its corporate HQ on Mount Doom to think about what they've done. There is no third option.
* Whose name still makes them sound like they should have Ming the Merciless as COO.
** The fact that they were looking at the website when it happened seems a little too Zemeckis to be true, but Tetrick confirmed to Kitchenette that it actually happened.
Image via Warren Price Photography/Shutterstock.