The stated goal of the American Egg Board, a body appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, is to “increase demand for eggs and egg products through research, education, and promotion.” In early September, though, it came to light that the American Egg Board’s powers-that-be were at times, er, loosely interpreting that mission. To be precise, emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act showed that the American Egg Board had worked to undermine Hampton Creek, the startup behind popular eggless mayonnaise spread Just Mayo. Which might explain why American Egg Board CEO Joanne Ivy has stepped down from her post, two months earlier than expected. From the AP:
The early departure comes as the USDA investigates the egg board regarding its actions related to Hampton Creek, a San Francisco startup that makes the eggless mayonnaise alternative Just Mayo. On Sept. 2, The Associated Press reported on emails in which Ivy told a consultant that she would “like to accept your offer to make that phone call to keep Just Mayo off Whole Foods shelves.”
The request, made in 2013, was not successful, as Just Mayo is still sold at Whole Foods.
If you haven’t been keeping up with the mayo wars, here’s a brief recap. About a year ago, Unilever, the parent of mayo brand Hellmann’s, sued Hampton Creek over the definition of mayonnaise. The lawsuit drew a fair amount of attention, perhaps because a multinational food corporation was going after a small startup over the definition of mayonnaise, and in December Unilever withdrew its case. Then, at the end of August, the matter was dredged up again, this time by the Food and Drug Administration, which sent Hampton Creek a warning letter over its product branding. Just Mayo and related Hampton Creek products, the FDA felt, “purport to be the standardized food mayonnaise due to the misleading name and imagery used on the label, but do not qualify as the standardized food mayonnaise as described under 21 CFR 169.140.” (For more on this standardized definition, see previous Moneybox coverage here.)
Hampton Creek is still dealing with that inquiry, and a representative told the AP on Friday that there’s been no update on the matter. But with Ivy’s early exit, it seems that Just Mayo and eggless mayo proponents everywhere have cracked open a small jar of justice.