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Unilever drops lawsuit against vegan mayonnaise maker

Food giant walks away from fight with vegan start-up

The mayo war was over before it even began.

Unilever, the multinational food giant behind Best Foods and Hellman’s mayonnaise, said Thursday that it was withdrawing a lawsuit against vegan start-up Hampton Creek.

The move comes less than six weeks after Unilever sued Hampton Creek for false advertising, alleging the San Francisco company’s Just Mayo sandwich spread was not real mayonnaise because it didn’t contain eggs.

The suit generated enormous media attention for the largely unknown Hampton Creek, which boasts high-powered financial backing from Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Li Ka-shing, Asia’s richest tycoon.

“It’s been incredibly powerful to tell our story to millions of people,” said Josh Tetrick, founder and chief executive of Hampton Creek.

“My instinct all along was that Unilever would step back and ask if this was the kind of company they wanted to be, and to their credit, they said ‘no,’ and that’s a pretty awesome thing,” he added.

Unilever released a brief press statement saying that it withdrew the lawsuit so that Hampton Creek could address its labeling directly with “industry groups and appropriate regulatory authorities.”

A spokesperson for the company did not respond to a request to elaborate on the announcement.

Tetrick, who has no intention of changing his labeling, said he believed Unilever would no longer pursue a name change for Just Mayo. He cited discussions his company had with Unilever since the lawsuit was filed Oct. 31.

“We applaud Hampton Creek’s commitment to innovation and its inspired corporate purpose,” said Mike Faherty, Vice President for Foods, Unilever North America, in a written statement. “We share a vision with Hampton Creek of a more sustainable world. It is for these reasons that we believe Hampton Creek will take the appropriate steps in labeling its products going forward.”

Tetrick founded Hampton Creek to create an alternative to industrialized foods that rely on animal byproducts. In addition to the vegan mayonnaise, the company makes a brand of cookie dough without eggs called Just Cookies.

Unilever’s announcement comes on the same day Hampton Creek said it had secured $90 million in a new round of funding.

Unilever, a British-Dutch company that owns an array of consumer goods brands, rang up nearly $70 billion in sales last year.

Follow @dhpierson for food business news.

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