You Can’t Make This Stuff Up, Folks!
By John Lawrence
The American Egg Board, which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, put out a hit on an eggless mayonnaise start-up which had come up with a product called Just Mayo which contains no eggs. Perceiving this as a threat to the egg industry and the thousands of chickens it represents, Egg Board members exchanged emails asking, “Can we pool our money and put a hit on him?”
This was in reference to the founder of the eggless mayonnaise company, Josh Tetrick. They also suggested that “old buddies from Brooklyn pay him a visit.” Evidently, the $7 billion egg industry saw the vegan start-up as a threat to its profits, and was determined to stop it in its tracks at all costs. The Board’s president, Joanne Ivy, sent an email to her organization’s public relations consultants at Edelman. “It would be a good idea if Edelman looked at this product as a crisis and major threat to the future of the egg product business,” she wrote.
Ivy approved of an offer from Anthony Zolezzi, a “consultant” (yeah, sure), who bragged during a strategy session that he could “make one phone call” and get Whole Foods to pull Just Mayo from its shelves. “If it is that easy, I will contact Anthony and remind him to make that call if it isn’t too steep” in cost, Ivy wrote to Chad Gregory, president and chief executive of United Egg Producers, a board-affiliated cooperative of egg producers.
The investigators from the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service concluded, however, that Zolezzi was never under contract with the Egg Board even though he offered to put out a contract on the vegan mayonnaise. The investigators went on to say that Zolezzi’s offer, if acted upon, “would have significantly exceeded the provisions of the Egg Research and Consumer Information Act” that established the board and its duties. You think? Ivy also instructed staff to erase all emails having to do with Beyond Eggs, the original company name, after reading them. Due to staff’s apparent non-erasures, investigators retrieved the deleted emails, and all without Putin’s hackers’ help!
A Federal Investigation Concluded Russian Hackers Not to Blame
A federal investigation was sparked by documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher and his Washington attorney. It makes you wonder what other nefarious undertakings and goings on are being pursued by shady government agencies. At least they can’t blame this one on Putin. It wasn’t Russian hackers who were attacking the Just Mayo headquarters. The American Egg Board spent at least $59,500 attacking the vegan mayonnaise company including hiring a top tier Chicago public relations firm to plant “USDA approved” pro-egg messaging with bloggers the firm considered influential.
The American Egg Board under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture also took out pop-up ads promoting eggs on the internet. These ads which usually included the Board’s “Incredible Edible Egg” logo would outrank other ads promoting Just Mayo according to hackers who were familiar with manipulating the internet ad protocol algorithms. So just when a Just Mayo ad should have approached the eyeballs of an internet user, up would pop the Incredible Edible Egg. Just Mayo would have been punked! Even if internet users conducted a search for “Beyond Eggs” the original name of Tetrick’s company, they would get treated to an Incredible Edible Egg ad instead. This is really dirty pool. It’s one thing to out compete your competition. It’s quite another to use Mafia tactics to pound your competitor into the ground even if it means that thousands of chickens’ lives are at stake.
Edelman charged the American Egg Board $33,000 for “research and coordination with 5-10 influential bloggers in food and health/nutrition space, drafting key messaging and coordinating posts” according to Board documents. Ivy has since resigned over this fiasco, and, as far as I know, Just Mayo is still on Whole Foods’ shelves. In the end the documents were released under the Freedom of Information Act and Tetrick sent them out to journalists. Ironically, the net effect was for Hampton Roads, the new name for Tetrick’s company, to receive excellent publicity just the opposite of what the American Egg Board was trying to achieve on behalf of egg producers and their chickens. “The egg board is supposed to promote eggs. It’s not supposed to take down competitors,” said Michele Simon, a frequent critic of the food industry who runs a consulting business called Eat, Drink, Politics.
Tetrick Had Altruistic Goals for Just Mayo
Having grown up in poverty, Tetrick spent several years working in Africa, then moved back to the U.S. hoping to find a way to “use capitalism for good.” He decided that a plant based mayonnaise which is cheaper to produce and more earth friendly was the way to go and would save many chickens the misery they have to go through being raised in captivity and confined to cages.
“If one looks at the food system with clear eyes and says, ‘Alright, what’s going on?’ we would say that it uses too much energy, it uses too much water, it uses too much land,” he told WBUR this fall. “And one of the things is the use of chicken eggs.” Eggs, he argued, are bad for the environment, bad for human health, bad for animal welfare and bad for global hunger so why not replace them with something cheaper, more sustainable and just as good if not better? Makes sense, capeesh? Tetrick’s goal was to use the capitalist system to come up with a more sustainable, earth friendly and cheaper product.
Just Mayo is cheaper than regular mayonnaise. It cost $3.48 at Walmart to Hellmann’s $5.25. And the egg industry has struggled with bad press over salmonella cases and mistreatment of chickens inside battery cages at egg production facilities.
This is from the Washington Post:
In 2011 Tetrick set up a lab in a start-up heavy industrial neighborhood of San Francisco, hired a bunch of chemists, and put them to work coming up with a plant-based substitute for eggs that is both indistinguishable from and less expensive than the real thing. Their solution was a powder made from Canadian yellow peas, which mimics egg yolks’ emulsifying abilities, minus the cholesterol and chicken coops. Egg substitutes would form the foundation of Hampton Creek’s business — the company now sells egg-less “Just Cookies” and “Just Cookie Dough” in addition to four varieties of vegan mayo.
Tetrick doesn’t try to broadcast that fact, though. The original Just Mayo label featured the name in big letters and a large image of an egg with a pea shoot growing in it. “Egg-free” was featured in relatively small font alongside the product’s other health-food bonafides (soy-free, gluten-free, cholesterol-free, kosher) and “vegan” was nowhere to be seen.
“We don’t market our product to tree-hugging liberals in San Francisco,” Tetrick told The Post in 2014. “… We built the company to try to really penetrate the places where better-for-you food hasn’t gone before.”
The word “Just” in Just Mayo doesn’t mean only or exactly but derives from the word justice. Tetrick is on a moral crusade, one that entails a veiled threat to the chicken industry. Eggs, it’s hard to believe, may go by the wayside. Tetrick believes that his Just Mayo may “fundamentally change the world.” No wonder the red blooded Americans behind the American Egg Board saw this as a threat to the American way of life.
In October 2014, Unilever, which manufactures Hellmann’s Mayonnaise (America’s No. 1 condiment), sued Hampton Foods for false advertising and unfair competition citing that the government’s definition of mayonnaise (yes, the government has a definition for mayonnaise) included the fact that it must contain eggs. It was decided, however, that Hampton Creek could keep the Just Mayo name for its product as long as the label contained the correct wording for its ingredients. The lawsuit brought Just Mayo even more publicity and helped to establish it as a profitable and premium product.