This post has been updated with a comment from Hampton Creek CEO Josh Tetrick.
The Silicon Valley food startup Hampton Creek, which has experienced explosive growth selling egg-free mayonnaise-like spreads and cookie doughs, is in trouble with US food regulators for “misbranding” its products and failing to follow certain labeling rules.
In an official warning letter dated August 12 and posted today (Aug. 25), the Food and Drug Administration lists four “significant violations” that the food company (or is it a tech company?) must fix before the end of the month. The biggest issue raised by the regulatory agency is the same one that Unilever, maker of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise, tried to sue Hampton Creek for in 2014: You can’t call a product “Just Mayo” if it’s not mayonnaise—and that means it has to contain eggs.
“The use of the term ‘mayo’ in the product names and the image of an egg may be misleading to consumers because it may lead them to believe that the products are the standardized food, mayonnaise,” the FDA wrote.
Hampton Creek, which is backed by high-profile investors including Bill Gates, Li Ka-Shing, and Vinod Khosla, was scrutinized earlier this month for its management practices after anonymous ex-employees aired their complaints with Business Insider. CEO Josh Tetrick dismissed some of the complaints and copped to others, maintaining that he and his colleagues are sincerely trying to follow industry rules.
Tetrick told Quartz that Hampton Creek product labels and ingredients had been “looked at” and approved several times—but evidently not by people familiar with FDA regulations. The company previously had to correct its labeling to list “lemon juice concentrate” as an ingredient, rather than just “lemon juice.”
The FDA notice also said that Hampton Creek’s claims about Just Mayo being cholesterol-free are “unauthorized,” and that its nutrition labels do not have the required footnotes.
Tetrick tells Quartz that he “had a really good call with the FDA earlier today,” and does not anticipate having to change the name of Just Mayo. He says “the FDA cares a lot about sustainable food” and the Hampton Creek team is looking forward to having “a productive conversation” with the regulators, through which both parties, he’s sure, will “find some common ground.”