Mayonnaise is a thick, creamy sauce often used as a condiment. As per Wikipedia” A condiment is a spice, sauce, or other food preparation that is added to food to impart a particular flavor, to enhance its flavor, or in some cultures, to complement the dish. The term originally described pickled or preserved foods, but has shifted meaning over time.” Unilever had been the Giants holding king size market share for Mayonnaise sale. Then there was arrival of Hampton creek and it’s “Just Mayo”. True to the definition of condiment Hellmen’s Mayonnaise sales dropped making way for Just Mayo. Unilever lost a handsome market share to Hampton creek.

Loosing share of business in a segment came as a blow to Unilever. That blow began something very interesting – A Mayo War. It began around October’14 and ended in December’14 with Unilever dropping the suit against “Just Mayo”.

In the war Unilever stood against Hampton creek – a startup with mere $120 million funding.

Mayo War

Here is an analysis of “Mayo War” by FS Labs.

  • Condiment market before “Just Mayo”: Unilever’s Hellman Mayonnaise was the market leaders. With 45% market share in $2Billion US market, Mayonnaise was unfazed as for as any competition was concerned. As per USA FDA rules, any product categorized as Mayonnaise should contain egg & 65% oil content. Against Hellmen’s Mayonnaise there were lot of vegan product which labeled themselves as Mayo or Mayonnaise but these products were more targeted toward health conscious consumers.
  • Entry of Hampton Creek: Hampton creek entered the condiment market with an alternate to egg based mayonnaise. Their product “Just Mayo” was a vegan substitute to Mayonnaise. Emblem on the product jar – a plant on egg shape background depicted the thinking behind product. Based on consumers feedback Hampton creek announced that their product was better in taste than old Mayonnaise. Hampton purposefully never marketed their product being vegan and in this way they were able to target a larger customer base – a mix of vegetarian & non-vegetarian.
  • Just Mayo: Hampton creek is attempting to create a new breed of plant based food, which would be healthier and more eco friendly. Regular Mayonnaises are made by mixing oil & egg, but Just Mayo uses pea’s oil & spices only. As per the founders, production of eggs is more expensive & less eco friendly than growing peas and some spices. Founders avoided naming it as another mayonnaise. They used pea’s oil as replacement of egg. And because of its eggless nature they named their product- Just Mayo.
  • Just Mayo sale picked up: Within 10 months of launch, just mayo was instant hit. Due to clever marketing it was getting sold in at least 22000 stores across the USA. Just mayo targeted regular grocery stores like Walmart, Safeway, Target, ShopRite, The Dollar Tree, Costco, Whole Foods, Kroger which were earlier used to be forte for Mayonnaise. Price wise it was also cheaper than the competition.
  • Unilever‘s unease & case filing: Losing market share to a startup like Hampton creek was unacceptable to the market giant. In an attempt to check the sale of Just Mayo, Unilever filed a case against Hampton creek for false advertizing and alleged that Just mayo spread was no real Mayonnaise as it did not contain egg. Unilever showed concerns over competitive marketing tactics of Hampton creek. Unilever accused Just mayo of damaging the entire product category, which has strived for decades for a consistent definition of ‘mayonnaise’ that fits with consumer expectations.

Unilever suit acted as blessings in disguise for Hampton creek.

  • Hampton became hit in media & among customer: The suit generated a enormous response from media for otherwise unknown Hampton creak. Hampton creek boasted a financial backing from Microsoft’s Bill Gates & Li-Ka Shing (Richest Asian tycoon). “It’s been incredibly powerful to tell our story to millions of people,” said Josh Tetrick, founder and chief executive of Hampton Creek.
  • Critics supported Hampton creek: Critics acclaimed Hampton creek for bringing innovation in mayonnaise market. Citing Just mayo’s evolution as a technological leap in condiment market, critics declared the action of Unilever as childish and lacking professionalism. They accused Unilever of trying to push the competitor out of market through wrong means.
  • Just Mayo Image splashed everywhere: It gave Just mayo a grand marketing. Every big news paper/ books carried out the story about “Big Mayo” bullying “Just Mayo” for capturing its market share. Further aiding Hampton Creek’s cause, many articles ended with a reference to the “orgpetition started by celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern. Petition with title, “Stop Bullying Sustainable Food Companies” were also used in some articles. Just mayo received massive support from customers. Quotes like “Thanks Unilever. I had never heard of this Mayo, now I can’t wait to try it” flooded social media.
  • Mayonnaise failed the FDA regulation: An unusual twist took place when some of the Unilever led Mayonnaise was not containing enough oil (65%) to meet FDA regulation. This led to more shame to Unilever and they changed product description on their website.
  • Unilever’s Loss was Hampton creek’s gain: Harder Unilever tried, more consolidated position Hampton creek gained. After 2 months, Unilever dropped the suit against Just mayo and advised them to label products more carefully. By then Hampton creek had gained support from enough customer base which would keep them busy for long time.

Further Development in Mayo War

Recently in August’15 FDA sent a warning to Hampton creek asking them to drop term “Mayo” from their product as it was not in compliance with FDA regulation. In a time when free market and technological innovation are basis of development, such ban on a product will definitely hamper the confidence of more such companies.

Hampton Creek has definitely shown that there is still lot of improvement scope in our food items and customers are open to experimentation. For that its duty of government to provide such startups enough support. Without that our taste buds would not be able to explore the new flavors.

This was small analysis of mayo war by FS Labs. Stay tuned for more updates.

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