Someone once told me that I argue so fair. It was a compliment, but it's not the best way to win- it would be much more effective to just ignore the facts that erode my points-of-view and harp on those that bolster them. Maybe throw in some misleading and selective statistics. But I am who I am, so I will admit: Unilever, you have a point. I will give you that.
You have a point about Just Mayo; this product does have "Mayo" in its name, and "mayo" is a widely accepted nickname for mayonnaise. Mayonnaise is a condiment that, by tradition and definition, contains eggs. But Just Mayo does not contain eggs, which makes Just Mayo... Not Mayo. Yes, the name does imply to the casual aisle-browser that the product contained in the jar is mayonnaise- but it's not. And it's kind of you to selflessly look out for the unprotected American consumer with your current lawsuit charging that Just Mayo should not be allowed to use the word "mayo" in its name. It's heartening to see a huge multinational corporation sticking up for the little guy- albeit by suing another relatively-little guy .
The average person may wonder why Unilever would, instead of focusing on making Sunlight or Signal or Surf, take up the fight against Hampton Creek, maker of Just Mayo, on behalf on Joe Six-Sandwich. Well, it turns out that when Unilever is not making Dove soap, Lipton tea, Pond's cold cream, Vaseline, or Axe body spray, they're making mayonnaise: Hellman's and Best Foods, to be specific. Unilever knows from mayonnaise; What American pantry (unopened) or fridge* (opened), East (Hellman's) or West (Best Foods), does not contain a jar? Although as a new Southerner I am warming to Duke's, I still consider a Hellman's-less fridge to have a gaping mayonnaise-shaped hole in it. I think most Americans do.
And Unilever likes it that way. And they're not afraid of a little competition, but you listen up and listen good: Try and horn in on Unilever's territory with an deceptively-named ersatz condiment, pal, and their legal team is going to slather you in ruthless litigation.
Just Mayo's label does feature an egg, which implies that there are eggs in the product. But upon closer look (and upon having it explained to me by the CEO in a print quote), the label also depicts a plant growing over that egg**, which obviously means that Just Mayo has replaced the egg of traditional mayonnaise with pea protein- who wouldn't get that from this?
OK, maybe it's a stretch to assume that the consumer would glean all that from a leafy 2-D egg-moon, but it makes so much sense that I can practically picture the graphic designer trying to conceal his cleverness-boner at the pitch meeting. So who's right here? Should we, despite our misgivings about allying ourselves with a monstrous multinational corporation, side with Unilever? Sure, they're protecting their turf, but aren't they guarding us from a deception which preys on us unwitting consumers?
Let me tell you a little story. Earlier this year, I was ill. I had lost about fifteen pounds, so I endeavored to put that weight back on. All of a sudden, calorie-dense foods were medicinal, and I embraced that. One night, for reasons medical and psychological, I decided that I needed some ice cream.
I was at Publix, so I had to make do with my options there- there would be no Jeni's on this day. At the time, I was so polluted with chemicals that I was jumping through hoops to avoid taking in even more via my food, so I spent way too much time scrutinizing the ingredients on the cartons of ice cream. Frustrated with my choices, I went with Breyer's. Good old Breyer's, who had always hung its creamy hat hard on its naturalness. Do you remember that commercial from c. 1990? The one where the little girl tries (and fails miserably) to read the synthesized, multisyllabic ingredients on a competitor's label? But our faith in dairy and the kid's battered self-esteem are both restored when she easily recites the ingredients on the Breyer's label: milk, sugar, cream, etc. Ingredients so elemental and simple that a dim child actor can read them! It was feel-good moment, as far as dairy products go, and it really stuck- I was sick of parsing tiny labels, so I went with Breyer's, two decades later. Yeah, there might be some stabilizers in there or something, but I knew that, by and large, I was getting natural creamed ice.
I took home a half-gallon of Breyer's Rocky Road- just like Mom used to buy. It was good. It wasn't Häagen-Dazs Rocky Road-good, but no complaints. I enjoyed my first bowl. But the next time I went for a few scoops (let's just assume it was an entirely different day), I looked a little too closely at the package. Lots of information, and lots of competing typefaces. A few "violators." A textured photo of some Rocky Road. And three disturbing words:
What I had purchased- what I had eaten- was not legally qualified to be called "ice cream."
We joke about the "pasteurized processed cheese food" label on products like EZ-Cheez, but that's because we know that we're not getting Comté when we buy neon, pressurized cheesefoam grenades. What idiot wouldn't? And we're ok with that. But this one doesn't sit well. Breyer's- look at you. Just look at you. I'm not going to admit to being so naïve that I believed your eternally-happy employees were up at the crack of dawn yanking cow teats, but come on- you used to be the natural choice, remember? You ran that ad which, although it was laden with Madison Avenue manipulation, struck at something true, right? You did use all-natural ingredients. Not only did you, but you beamed it out for the whole world to see! That was what made you different. In the parlance of our times: That was your thing!
And now just look at you. You weren't exactly mom-and-pop when that ad ran- Kraft purchased you in the seventies. But something must have happened between those glorious, boastful days and that day in c. 2006 when you became unrecognizable? You used to be ice cream, that thing for which we all scream. Now you're frozen dairy dessert, that thing which we have no fucking idea what it is. Does it have to do with that transaction in1993, in which you were sold, along with the rest of Kraft's ice cream brands, to... Unilever?
That's right. Our champion of truth-in-labeling- the one who takes umbrage at the slightest bend in the revered mayo mantle- is the one who took a trusted ice cream brand and banished it to the land of non-desserts. That would be Unilever's prerogative, I suppose, but it's not really banished at all. It's still stacked up right there with the brands that miraculously still do qualify as ice cream. It's still called Rocky Road. The packaging is the same. I mean, if I said that I picked up a half-gallon of Breyer's Rocky Road at the store, what kind of moron would not assume I was talking about ice cream?
Unilever, when they weren't making TRESemmé or Comfort or something called Cif, were making enough incremental changes to disqualify Breyer's Rocky Road*** as ice cream. But that Breyer's name is still front and center, because that's what we, the consumer, know and trust. Unilever knows what we think of Breyer's, and they're not gonna rush out and change that. It's fucked up, yes, but really- what do we expect from a company whose "culinary" arm is called Unilever Food Solutions. That makes me salivate about as much as when the manager of a chain restaurant refers to a location as a "store."
With Breyer's, Unilever makes its message to the consumer simple: Read the fine print if you want, suckers- it's a free country. But they're not volunteering any more information than they're obligated to. They'd rather just push that name which has earned trust for a hundred years, and leave it up to us schlubs to lean in, squint, and realize that it's all bullshit.
So go ahead, Unilever- when you're done making Flora and Alberto VO5 (which still exists, I just learned right now) and (gulp) Ben & Jerry's, protect the honor of your sacred Sandwich Dryness Solutions. Give it to Just Mayo with both barrels, but just don't do it in our name- you've already made clear what you think of us.
*No more blaming the mayo in exposed potato salad for food poisoning- it turns out that mayo should be refrigerated to protect quality- not to ensure safety. It's ok outside of the fridge, even after being opened. Who knew? My grandmother, apparently, who my father insists never took up fridge space with mayo.
**To really hammer their point home, they could have gone with an egg completely eclipsed by a dominant plant, which I guess would have just wiped the whole egg off the label completely. I don't know whether this would have made things clearer.
***Some Breyer's flavors still rate as ice cream.
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